America’s growing teacher-gender gap extends to the First Coast, where there’s a scarcity of men in elementary and secondary classrooms. Three area teachers tell what it’s like to be among the few men in teaching in our schools:

DORIAN GEORGE – Sadie T. Tillis Elementary, Orange Park

As the only male teacher at my school, I feel a certain responsibility to every student who comes through the doors of Sadie T. Tillis Elementary. I agree with Mr. Warren’s point (in accompanying story) on establishing boundaries with male students, because many of the male students I have encountered have lacked strong male influences in their life.

The relationship I garner rivals that of a father/son relationship because of the trust, attention and passion that must go into being a successful teacher, but students must understand our purpose as teachers is set on providing permanent knowledge rather than moving permanently into their lives. The impression I make on them as a young black male educator and role model is the main permanent fixture I aim at being in their lives.

For many of my students, male or female, black or otherwise, I may be the only black male teacher they will ever have. I have only had three in my lifetime, and each one made me want to become a better man and pushed me to believe I could be as successful as my mind allowed. I have been blessed to be awarded the opportunity to teach by the Teach For America program, which believes as I do: Every child deserves a chance at a quality education. That is the mission I enter my classroom with every day, providing the highest quality education for all of my students and instilling principles of discipline and chivalry into each of my young gentleman.

JOHN MEEKS – Mayport Middle School

“You’re not wearing a tuxedo.”

A student made this comment when I arrived in the Media Center in a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans. Although I had taken a sick day for a medical appointment, I stopped by the school to take care of some business.

The student’s comment made me laugh because she was used to seeing me in more formal clothing. No, work is not a black-tie affair for me. I do, however, make good use of the 60-something neckties that hang in my closet.

From my first day as a substitute teacher, I made it a point to wear a shirt and tie to work every day. This was especially important when I was in my late twenties and was often stopped and asked by teachers if I had a hall pass – pretty much the equivalent of getting carded at the store.

And, if teachers might be skeptical of a rookie teacher, think of how parents might be. I learned from Dr. Clint van Nagel (my classroom management professor at the University of North Florida) that my dealings with parents depend on how I present myself to them. This meant that I would appear at conferences looking like I was ready for business.

In addition to my dealings with other adults, my attire has extra meaning for me as a black male who works with many students of color. I might be the only professional minority they encounter. For many students whose lives are filled with impossibilities, I want to represent what is possible for them.

It is possible for anyone to make the choices today that allow them to be what they want to be tomorrow. The tie is optional.

TIM KENNEY – Mandarin Oaks Elementary

As a teacher in Duval County for the past seven years, I have had the opportunity to work in an array of school settings from Title 1 to suburban. During this short tenure, the lack of male teachers in elementary classrooms is quite prominent. Currently, I am one of five males out of a faculty with more than 90 certificated teachers at Mandarin Oaks Elementary. Reflecting back on my studies as an undergraduate student at the University of North Florida, the trend was also the same. While most of my friends were pursuing a degree in business or medicine, I was the only one going forth in the field of education – more specifically, elementary education.

Many feel that my job is to be a role model to young boys and girls, but it is also to be a role model to other male teachers who want to pursue a career in elementary education.

As society changes and the evolution of family dynamics varies, it is more important now than ever before that male teachers become more prevalent in the elementary setting. It is important for elementary students to have a mixture of both male and female teachers to foster a well-balanced learning environment.