They are the men who teach, those whom recent reports call a “rarity” and an “endangered species.”
Surveys show that about one in four teachers in the United States are male. Local data indicates that Berkshire County is right on par, with males making up about 26 percent of the local public school teacher population.
Nationally speaking, these statistics indicate a 40-year low, and particularly affect the fields of early childhood and elementary education.
“I would have to agree with that. Though I’m not sure why that figure is,” said Susan Wismer, an education licensing officer for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.
Eric Brown and his fellow second grade teacher Glen Chamberlin are proudly bucking this trend at Cheshire Elementary School. But guys like them are few and far between across the field.
“I can tell you this: Most males select secondary education and, based on my 32 years experience, as an education professor, I have seen no increase in elementary or early childhood male majors,” said Martin Henley, chairman of the Education Department at Westfield State College.
All of this got Brown thinking, enough so to do his master’s degree thesis study at MCLA on “the rarity of male teachers.”
“In our school, we have four male classroom teachers through Grade 6, plus a male gym teacher. The subject interested me because of the fact that I am male and there are so few male teachers. It begs the question why this is the case.”
At one point in history, the male-to-female teacher population was nearly balanced. The Winter 2008 education policy brief of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy titled “The Status of Male Teachers in Public Education Today” includes a table of data on the male teaching population spanning more than a century.
In 1870, for example, of the 220,000 teachers in the country, 90,000, or 40.9 percent were men. The percentage dipped to 29 percent at the turn of the century and hit a peak of almost 33 percent in 1970. In 1990, of the more than 3 million teachers in the U.S., 669,000 or 21.9 percent, were male.
According to 2007 population survey data kept by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most male teachers, 43 percent, are found in the secondary education field. Only 2.7 percent of men called themselves preschool or pre-kindergarten teachers.
In Brown’s thesis work, he interviewed a number of male teachers about the shortage. The answers as to why were varied.
But when it comes to a shortage of men in the early childhood and elementary education field, it seems image can be a deterrent.
A report released this fall by Community Advocates for Young Learners (CAYL) Institute came to a similar conclusion. The Cambridge-based nonprofit group listed “stereotypes” ahead of “low salaries” and “lack of support” as the major barriers to male involvement in the early childhood field.
“At lot of males don’t perceive it to be a masculine type activity,” said Martin Henley of Westfield State College, a noted teachers’ school.
Also stated in the CAYL report, “Men who express a desire to work with young children are stereotyped as sexual predators, and this is a major impediment to men who want to enter the field.”
More simply stated, the image of an elementary school teacher is often portrayed as female.
“If you see a children’s movie or open a book and see a teacher standing in front of the kids, it’s almost always a female that’s portrayed,” said Brown. “If boys don’t see a lot of male elementary teachers, they may not see it as an option for themselves.”
For Frank Oliva, the typical teacher image was shattered during his senior year in high school.
“It was Job Shadow Day and I still didn’t have anyone to follow. So I asked my coach, Aaron Robb, who was a teacher, if I could shadow him. I loved the way he taught and thought maybe I could do the same.”
Oliva took classes at Berkshire Community College and then transferred to Nichols College, a business school in Dudley with a small education program.
He earned degrees in history and education, and has now taught eighth-grade social studies classes at Reid Middle School for the past three years, and coaches local youth sports teams.
But male or female, does it matter who’s at the head of the class?
Like Oliva, Tom Matuszak didn’t have a male teacher until Grade 5, and doesn’t remember many other men teaching his classes until he arrived to McCann Technical High School in North Adams. The school is the only district in the county where more than half its instructors are men.
Matuszak has been a machine technology instructor in McCann’s industrial shop for 14 years, where only two females currently teach.
In an interview last week with The Eagle, he put some thought to the issue of gender and teaching.
“Now that I think of it, when I was younger, I would listen to my male science teacher much more than my female English teachers,” he said. “I wonder if the girls in shop are intimidated or bothered because it’s mostly guys.”
Kathy Millard, the school’s principal said that the main difference between male and female teachers is how students of either gender may look to them as role models.
“Kids have their preferences in who they relate to and are going to either like a teacher or not. I think it’s nice when you have a wide group of teachers and role models to choose from,” she said.
Jim Durkee has taught history at McCann for the past four years of his 30-year teaching career. There are 10 male and 15 female teachers on the school’s academic side.
He said when it comes to recruiting teachers, it should be more about the dedication than the gender or the compensation. Durkee said it’s the students that have drawn him to and kept him in the profession.
“We have many good teachers here, male and female. I don’t just stay for the money. It’s about the positive feedback I get from students and feeling good about it when I go home.”