by James White - The Daily Campus - Connecticut, USA

Public school students need many resources to receive the best quality education: clean, safe schools, updated classroom materials, but perhaps most importantly, students need caring, well-educated teachers to serve as positive role models.

Educators say they’re concerned those role models may be in short supply as fewer men choose to become teachers.

According to the National Education Association (NEA), the percentage of teachers who are male is at a nationwide 40-year low.

“It’s disappointing that as gender roles have changed, we haven’t picked up more men,” said Richard Schwab, dean of the NEAG School of Education. “We try to recruit them as much as we can.”

Nationally, about 25 percent of the more than 3 million public school teachers are men, according to the NEA.

The shortage of male teachers is most acute in elementary schools. NEA statistics show only about 260,000 men teaching in primary schools across the country, a number dwarfed by more than 1.5 million female teachers.

These trends continue in Connecticut public schools. According to the state Department of Education, nearly 9 in 10 elementary school teachers are women – including 98 percent of kindergarten teachers. Nearly three-quarters of all state teachers are women, in line with national averages.

“We definitely have a long way to go in the elementary school areas,” said Anthony Daniels, chair of the NEA’s student services program.

“If you constantly see women in the forefront of teaching, you think that teaching is only for women,” he said.

Daniels, who holds a degree in elementary education, said that he recently visited his hometown elementary school and found not a single male teacher.

After giving a collection of books to the school and reading to students, Daniels said he received numerous thank-you notes, including several from boys who said they now wanted to become teachers.

“You should have seen the smiles on these kids’ faces,” he said.

One often-cited reason as to why men rarely teach is the low salaries.

“It’s gotten better,” Schwab said, “but teaching is a tough way to make a living.”

Connecticut pays some of the highest average salaries in the nation for teachers: more than $61,000 last year, according to the state Department of Education. Starting salaries typically hover around $30,000.

“It’s not enough,” said Jay Perrier, a 9th-semester molecular and cell biology major. He explained that he originally planned on teaching biology in a secondary school after graduation, but was turned off by the pay, “especially for a five-year program.”

“It’s not even enough to pay off loans,” he said.

Daniels agreed that pay was a major factor in deterring men from becoming educators.

“Salary is a huge turn-off to the profession,” he said. “Teachers have to be compensated and rewarded.”

When men do choose to become teachers, they’re often attracted to middle and high schools because of the opportunity to coach sports and teach “hard” subjects like history, math and science, exacerbating the shortage of male teachers at the elementary level, Daniels added.

Addressing the shortage will mean a renewed emphasis on recruiting men to educational programs early, starting in high school, Schwab said.

Daniels said the importance of male teachers means the NEA will lobby to strongly support such programs. He cited one recruiting program in New Jersey where men receive financial aid for college upon committing to teach in-state after graduation.

No matter how men are recruited to teaching, they’re needed to produce a diverse teaching environment that can help kids achieve their full potential, Daniels stressed.

“It takes a village to raise a child, we truly believe that,” he said.