by Corrinne Hess - Daily Herald Staff - Chicago, IL

Just 9 percent of all elementary school teachers are men

Josh Fauser is a whiz at getting a double-knotted shoelace untied.

And by lowering his voice an octave, he easily commands the attention of even the most rambunctious crowd.

The skills make him popular at Hillcrest Elementary School in Antioch. But despite his status, Fauser, who teaches first grade, is part of a group on the verge of extinction.

Over the past two decades, the ratio of men to women in the teaching profession has steadily declined. Today, it stands at a 40-year low, with men making up only 21 percent of the nation’s 3 million teachers, according to the National Education Association.

The discrepancy is even more prominent in elementary schools, where men make up just 9 percent of teachers.

“I’m definitely one of the few men in this district,” Fauser said. “But I’ve gotten used to it. Besides, my place is in the classroom. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Jeanne Harmon, executive director of the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession in Tacoma, Wash., said men are needed at all levels of education to serve as positive role models.

“Without men teaching in elementary schools, it is unlikely that boys will think, ‘I’d really like to grow up to be a teacher,’ which just perpetuates the problem,” Harmon said. “Having a mix of ages and genders creates a vibrant school staff more capable of meeting the needs of all the students.”

Jeff Arndt, an art teacher at Ranch View Elementary School in Naperville, doesn’t see himself in the minority.

“I don’t think of Ranch View as dominated by females, instead dominated by a community of professionals whose varying ages and experience help give our students the best education they can possibly have,” he said, adding that he was surprised by statistics regarding male educators.

“I do not have a single answer as to why there are fewer males who have chosen education as a profession,” he said. “When you get down to the bottom of it, I don’t understand how anybody would not want to be involved in teaching at some level.”

Harmon said universities are not recruiting male education majors, so school districts don’t have a large pool to choose from.

“The good news is that male elementary teachers tend to get hired quickly, so if a university can get that news out, they can encourage men to think about choosing elementary teaching over some of the more crowded fields,” she said.

Bryan Nelson, founder of MenTeach, a nonprofit clearinghouse that promotes the recruitment of male teachers, said there are a number of reasons men shy away from teaching at the grade school level.

Research conducted by MenTeach found three key reasons: low status and pay, the perception that teaching is “women’s work,” and the fear of accusation of child abuse.

“There is a lot more status associated with being a college professor than an elementary school teacher,” Nelson said. “And if we started paying teachers what we pay NBA players, there would be a lot more men entering the field.”

U.S. Department of Labor statistics show the median annual earnings of kindergarten, elementary, middle and secondary school teachers ranged from $41,400 to $45,920 in May 2004.

Tim Davis taught elementary school for 27 years for Elgin Area School District U-46. Now he is president of the teachers union.

Davis said for him, it was never about money.

“It depends what motivates people,” he said. “For some, money might be an issue, but for me personally, teaching lent itself to being pro-family.”

Davis said U-46 is a little different than most because all the teachers, regardless of whether they teach high school biology or kindergarten, are on the same pay scale.

But 80 percent of the work force in U-46 is still female, he said.

“I really don’t think it comes down to gender lines,” Davis said. “It has to do with your interests and motivation to do that kind of work.”

Michael May’s daughter, Rachel, was one of Fauser’s students last year.

May, of Lindenhurst, said while he doesn’t think there is anything a male teacher does that is different, or better, than a female, having an additional male role model in a child’s life is very beneficial.

“I was kind of surprised to learn she would have a male teacher,” May said. “That wasn’t normal when I was growing up. The only men were the band teachers.”