by Greg Mullenholz - Take Part

Early in my career, before I was married, I admit that I enjoyed all the comments and attention that came with being a male elementary school teacher. “Awww, that’s so cute” or “You must be sensitive” were ones I heard quite often.

I remember that even in my teacher prep program, there were only three male elementary education students. Carl Bilotta, Corey Serio, and I sat at the same table, back of the room, for most of our methods classes. We were the three “amigos” in the world of the “amigas.”

While there are no statistics indicating the exact percentage of males in elementary schools, we do know that when elementary and middle schools are combined, men account for roughly 17 percent of the teaching force. Compare that with the 42 percent of male teachers in high school classrooms.

In kindergarten and pre-kindergarten, males make up approximately two percent of the workforce.

Some students will not see a male teacher until they reach high school. And diversity is also a concern. Less than 15 percent of teachers, in all grade-levels, are black. Out of that number, less than two percent are males.

So what is keeping men from teaching elementary school kids?

Teaching the younger grades is considered to be a job choice that requires a sense of nurturing and caretaking—something men aren’t thought of having.

Also, due to existing social constructs, men are still seen as the primary breadwinners; and teaching isn’t exactly a lucrative career choice if you subscribe to that idea. Then there’s the perception that if men teach young children, they must be predators or there must be something psychologically wrong with them. These are, to say the least, erroneous ways of thinking.

Though these views are not held by all, the fact that they’re held by some discourages a large number of men from seriously considering teaching. The image of the testosterone-driven male doesn’t meld with the feminized image we have of our elementary schools.

The arguments for having men in the early grades are plentiful. Male teachers can be role models for both boys and girls, especially those growing up without fathers. Today one-third of all children in the United States grow up this way.

Male educators in elementary schools can show students, especially boys, that teaching is a viable career choice. They have the ability to build strong relationships that will help boys succeed in elementary school and into middle school.

They also play a critical role in preventing boys from dropping out of high school. Dropping out is a process that starts in the early grades.

We need men in the early grades to build critical relationships with our male students who are, in large numbers, disengaged in school, lagging behind girls in reading, overly identified as having behavioral problems, and more frequently referred for special education.

Greencastle Elementary in Silver Spring, MD, refused to accept this reality and created the Institute for Building Men (IBM) to channel the energies and expertise of our male teachers into supporting our young men.

At Greencastle, there are seven male teachers, a much higher number than most elementary schools. But there is also some intentionality to this. Kevin Payne, our principal, has actively recruited men to teach in our building, knowing that our young men need these role models.

We have a large population of African-American boys, and sadly, many of them are fatherless. The kids are living in a world of poverty, drugs, and violence—and the odds are stacked against them.

IBM, attended by about 30 of our young men, and facilitated by male staff members, seeks to build character, provide counseling and mentorship, and develop relationships. We strive to prepare students for success in college, career, and beyond by focusing on the impact of their choices in the present.

Getting men to consider teaching in the early grades isn’t a choice—it is a must. Our young boys need to see themselves in positions of leadership at school. Men are not the answer to the dropout crisis, nor are they the silver bullet that will end the other societal ills our students face. However, male elementary educators can absolutely make a difference

What we must remember is that this difference can never be made if schools don’t actively recruit men—especially men of color—into their teaching programs.