by Megan Gildow-Anthony, Staff Writer - Springfield News-Sun

Most elementary schools in Clark and Champaign counties have only a handful of male teachers on staff, but men can be valuable in the classroom as role models for children, according to experts.

About 8 percent of elementary school teachers in the area are male, according to a Springfield News-Sun analysis of Ohio Department of Education data. Twenty-five percent of teaching staff across all grades are male.

“It’s just historically been that way,” said Sally Brannan, chair of the education department at Wittenberg University. “It’s our cultural view in the United States.

“When they are in there, they’re such an asset in the classroom because they provide such good role models for the kids and they provide a different perspective in the classroom.”

Men are significantly less likely to go into early elementary education than women, local school officials said.

At Wittenberg, about 18-20 students graduate from the early-childhood program each year, but only one to two are males, Brannan said. Wright State University has an average graduating class in early childhood education of about 100 students, with up to four males a year, said associate professor William Mosier.

“There is a stigma against males in America about certain professions,” said Mosier. “A couple of those are nursing and elementary school teaching, especially early-childhood education, which is prekindergarten through third grade.”

In middle and high schools, the numbers start to increase. About 28 percent of middle school teachers in Clark and Champaign counties are male and 46 percent of high school teachers.

At Springfield’s Lincoln Elementary, there are four male teachers, plus a male librarian, said Principal Mike Wilson. One of those men, David Wells, is an often-requested kindergarten teacher.

“We actually have parents come in and say, ‘I want Mr. Wells because I want a man,’ ” Wilson said.

Wells, a 12-year veteran of the classroom, said he has about six students in a class of 24 who requested him as their teacher, some because he taught an older sibling or family friend.

“The family situations and the family dynamics have changed,” Wells noted. “They don’t have men in their lives now as much as they did in the past. And that’s for boys and girls.”

But it is rewarding to see how much young children can grow and learn over the course of the year, he said.

Men have traditionally steered away from elementary education because of stereotypes, fear of false accusations and low status and pay, said Bryan G. Nelson, founder and director of MenTeach, a non-profit organization based out of Minneapolis that has researched the issue.

“What happens, especially (with) younger children, people think that men can’t be nurturing, men can’t be caring,” said Nelson. “Or some people believe that men don’t want to do it.”

But research suggests male teachers can have an impact on the classroom, he said, pointing to a study that showed middle school boys performed better in reading with a male teacher.

“It’s not that just putting any man into a classroom because it’s a guy is going to make a difference,” Nelson said. “But we do think that men can bring something into the classroom.”

Seeing men in the early childhood classrooms can actually help dispel stereotypes, said Wright State’s Mosier.

“If young children are raised in a household where the mother’s loving and the father’s just the disciplinarian, it’s handy for children to see the role of adult male as also nurturing,” he said.

Children tend to enjoy having male teachers, he added.

“Little boys and little girls all just love to listen to a story read by a male or sit in the lap of a male teacher as he is reading a story to the group,” said Mosier, a former preschool teacher. “Children respond very positively.”

At Tecumseh, about 4 percent of the elementary teachers are male, according to the ODE.

When selecting a new teacher for an open position, not many males are applying for the job, said Superintendent Jim Gay.

“If we had an open elementary position, early elementary, it might be 19 (women) to 1 (man),” he said.

Most schools strive for a diverse teaching staff to reflect their student body and the real world, said Northeastern Superintendent Lou Kramer.

“I think it’s important for kids to have a wide range of experiences, whether that be with female teachers or male teachers or whether it be teachers with different cultural backgrounds,” Kramer said. “Those different perspectives help kids.”

Soon, more males may be seeking those jobs in elementary classrooms, said Springfield City School District Superintendent Dave Estrop.

“I think some of the old stereotypes are beginning to break down,” he said.

Being a male in a candidate pool for an early childhood position may help applicants, said Brannan.

“I actually think when you have males applying for early childhood jobs, it probably does increase their likelihood of being hired,” she said.

“They’ll definitely get an interview and they probably will get hired because principals are looking for diversity in their classrooms.”

Districts are looking for the best people for the job, superintendents said, while also striving to have diversity on their staff.

“I think it’s good to have men and women who can serve as positive role models for the children,” Estrop said.

“Just to the same extent, it’s good to have men and women as positive role models as parents. Whether you have a daughter or a son, it benefits both.”