By Phyllis Coulter - Bloomington Pantagraph - Bloomington, IL, USA

Being a male elementary school teacher sometimes carries with it the added responsibility of being a male role model. “For a lot of kids, I’m the only male they interact with on the daily basis,” said Ken Hamerlinck, first-grade teacher at Sheridan Elementary School, Bloomington. “You owe it to them to be a good role model.”

Bob Connelly, the only male teacher at Tri-Valley Elementary School, Downs, and Eric Swingler, one of four male teachers at Northpoint Elementary School, Bloomington, say they have had parents ask for them specifically. The requests often come from single mothers who want their children to interact with adults of both genders, Connelly said.

The danger is sometimes people focus so much on male teachers as role models, they forget they are there as teachers, said Amee Adkins, Illinois State University associate professor of educational administration and foundations at Illinois State University. “We tend to talk about men as role models, not as teachers,” she said. “All teachers are role models as part of their jobs as educators.”

Robert Dean, superintendent of Illinois State University’s laboratory schools in Normal, said the need for role models makes diversity in the classroom especially important. “Students need all sorts of role models – gender and race,” he said. Dean concedes that it may be a challenge in the future to recruit a diverse group of teachers.

Many teachers feel they have less control over what they do in the face of mounting government regulations and public criticism of the educational system, Dean said. Men or women who choose the teaching profession “need a servant’s heart” and must be able to “brush aside the noise around them,” said Dean.