By Drew M. McWeeney - Fresh Talk - The Hartford Courant

Often, when we think about the fields of elementary education, early childhood education, special education and even English, we tend to think about them as being female-dominated. Having a specific gender committed to these professions is wonderful, but poses a major problem for our public educational system.

Why is this a problem? Numerous households in America are run by single mothers. To many children, especially in urban areas, do not have a positive father figure and role model to whom they can relate — that is the problem. Sometimes, if parents are absent, those students rely on their teachers to provide the guidance and stability of a missing parent. Even though women have a very important place in primary-level classrooms, men have an equally important role to play as well.

It is a controversial, yet important issue, but more male teachers are needed in these areas, especially the primary grades. Male primary grade teachers can provide the positive role model of a father figure for students who come from single-parent families, which is critical because the relationship between parents and children is very important in this stage of a child’s education.

Students come from various backgrounds, making this situation a cultural issue. According to the U.S. Census in 2010, of the 75 million children up to the age of 17, 19 million were being raised in single-parent homes. Of those, 18 million children were being raised by single mothers. This statistic is more pronounced for African American and Latino children. In 2010, 50 percent of all African American children lived in single-mother families, as did 26 percent of Latino children. For whites and Asians the figures were 23 percent and 16 percent, respectively. The percentage of African American children living only with their fathers was small (5.5 percent).

This data indicates the need for a positive male father figure in these children’s lives. This absence of men does put pupils at a disadvantage, particularly boys, who really need to relate to a male in the classroom. It is important for children from single-parent homes to have a male teacher as a role model. Researchers, including Christine Skelton, a professor at the University of Birmingham in England, have suggested that having more men teaching in the primary grades will help encourage these children from single-parent homes to want to come to school, as they will have a strong male figure showing interest in and concern about them, because children in this situation do not get this type of support at home.

Further, boys may express a preference for male teachers, because of perceived shared interests, experiences and ways of thinking. These boys may feel that male primary grade teachers have a better comprehension of their kind of play and can relate to them better.

For the girls, a male teacher can represent a very important opportunity to interact with and build relationships with men outside their family. This increased understanding of male role models serves as an important role in girls’ successful transition into their adult life, according to a report by Mark McGrath and Kevin Sinclair, “On The Social Benefits for Boys and Girls Having Male Teachers in Primary Grades,” in the journal of Gender and Education. Having more male primary grade teachers can only help children to view these male primary teachers positively. Increasing the number of males in primary grade classrooms will make this a more normal occurrence and teach children that you do not have to be female to teach a primary grade.

The goal of our educators should be to develop diverse teaching staffs with a mix of genders, ethnicities and races to give our students knowledge, lessons and skills — beyond the textbooks and teacher books — they need to succeed in life. Having more male teachers can help make a positive step to having a gender balance and accomplish this goal.

Drew McWeeney, 18, lives in Wolcott and plans to enter Southern Connecticut State University this fall to study early childhood education.