by Garthia Elena Burnett -

As 51-year-old Mark Sanders stands towering over a group of West Lowndes Elementary School fourth graders talking about decimals or long division, he commands attention. The group is silent and poised to answer any questions he might ask.

It’s just another day in the classroom for Sanders, who – in his five years of teaching fourth- and fifth-grade remedial math – has been a bit of an anomaly. Women still dominate the elementary education field.

And Sanders is one of only a handful of male educators working in public schools in Lowndes County.

For him, being in the minority just means he has to work harder.

“Normally when you’re outnumbered, you do your best to be the best because we’re in competition,” said Sanders, who is WLES’s only male teacher. The school’s principal hasn’t had another male teacher in his three years as principal.

The Lowndes County School District also has male teachers at New Hope Elementary School. Ray Moore teaches fifth grade at the school, while Bobby Ballard is the fourth-grade inclusion teacher and Spence Andrews is the Title I instructor. The other county elementary school – Caledonia – also has a male teacher. Jordan Brock teaches fifth grade.

“I think the main reason (there aren’t more male teachers) is the salary,” offered Sanders, who admitted he once chose money over teaching. He worked in various labor and industry jobs before going back to school to become a teacher.

“Lots of my classmates work in factories, and they make more (money) than me,” noted Sanders. “And being the head of the household, we like to make as much as we can.”

Marcus West, 26, a fourth-grade teacher at Stokes-Beard Elementary School in the Columbus Municipal School District, had his own ideas of why more men aren’t teaching in the primary grades.

The opportunity to coach sports at a high school level is a draw for many men, he said. But elementary school is where West’s heart is.

“I like to work with kids,” said West, who is in his second year of teaching. “I used to work at Skate Zone a long time ago. The pay wasn’t very good, but I was just there because I love kids.”

And the feeling, according to Stokes-Beard Principal Pamela Lenoir, is mutual.

“They absolutely adore Mr. West,” said Lenoir. “They really do. He’s really good with them, and they all want to be in his room. At the beginning of the year, several said, ‘I want to be in Mr. West’s class.’ It’s just something they’re not used to.”

West is the sole male teacher at Stokes-Beard. Lenoir has had one other male teacher at her school during her seven-year tenure as principal.

The Columbus Municipal School District has other male teachers in primary grades at Fairview Elementary School where Bernard Taylor teaches first grade and Hunt Intermediate School where John Sanders teaches fifth grade. That school also has a male P.E. teacher.

“I love it,” Mark Sanders said of teaching. “The only thing I hate is, I didn’t get into it earlier.

“I’ve always had a drive to teach, an urge to teach. At the time, the money was better (in factory work). But I finally decided to what I wanted to do, what I love to do.”

“It’s fun. It’s something different every day,” said West. “It’s definitely not the same old thing every day. … It’s always something new, something different.”

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