Chris Saltalamacchio had all female teachers at his Long Island, N.Y., elementary school until he reached the fifth grade.

“I was kind of freaked out about the idea of having a male teacher,” he remembers.

So Saltalamacchio could understand why one of his first-graders at Cecil Manor Elementary School in Elkton, Md., had her mom call the school office this summer after she saw his name on her class assignment. By the end of an open house, though, he knew he had won her over.

“She told me, ‘I was really worried when I saw that I had a boy as a teacher, but this is a lot better than I thought it was going to be,’ ” said Saltalamacchio, a University of Delaware graduate in his first year of teaching.

The girl had reason to be surprised at the “Mr.” in front of his name. In elementary schools, men are a rarity.

Nationally, about 16 percent of public elementary school teachers are men, according to 2004 figures from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The shortage is even greater in Delaware, where the most recent state data put Delaware’s figure at about 10 percent. In public schools, female teachers outnumbered their male peers 3,611 to 415 in elementary grades in 2006.

As he hires new teachers, Thomas Edison Charter School Principal Charles Hughes pays attention to the makeup of his Wilmington school’s staff. Perhaps that is why 35 percent of the K-8 school’s teachers are men.

“That’s another piece to build a school that’s diverse in all aspects,” he said.

No research has shown students learn better from male or female teachers, but some argue having a more equitable male representation in schools benefits children, especially those without good male role models at home. “You as a teacher may be the most consistent thing in a child’s life, you might be the most consistent father figure,” Saltalamacchio said.