by Rebecca L. Watts - NewsTimes

As the school year ends, Connecticut faces a worsening teacher shortage, with nearly 3,000 reported vacancies. State officials announced in May a $3 million initiative to address the problem with hiring and training programs, including a new Registered Apprenticeship Program. I commend the good efforts being made by government officials, as well as school district leaders, to eliminate barriers to becoming a teacher, especially to diversify the educator workforce.

As we celebrated Father’s Day this month, let’s also support and encourage men who want to embark on the noble profession of teaching, to be role models and mentors especially to boys, and for a more inclusive educational experience for all our children.

The scarcity of male teachers is a longstanding concern. The gender disparity among K-12 educators has been playing out for decades in classrooms across the nation, with currently 73 percent of teachers being women. Connecticut tracks on par, with the latest statistics showing 75.5 percent female teachers.

Though the impact of an educator’s gender on boys’ academic performance has been up for debate, addressing the gap remains crucial. A more balanced teaching workforce — not only gender, but racial diversity — enriches the learning environment. And researchers have argued that men are invaluable role models and mentors to boys, who may have increased “feelings of school belonging” and fewer disruptive behaviors when taught by someone similar to themselves.

In other words, addressing the gender gap will provide boys in Connecticut with a wider set of role models who can inspire and guide them to success.

That’s why it is imperative that our leaders reimagine the pipeline of men into the profession, as they also prioritize the recruitment and retention of teachers statewide. By implementing targeted strategies and policy reforms, building support and mentorship programs, and promoting the value of male educators, we can foster an inclusive and diverse teaching workforce — one that reflects the needs and experiences of all students.

It starts by encouraging more men to pursue teaching careers — and degree programs that will put them on that path. For example, the nonprofit Operation Socrates, founded by a teacher and veteran, is making strides by recruiting new teachers from the ranks of active-duty military and veterans, of whom around 9 in ten are men.

Some men face obstacles to the profession because of barriers to higher education. Cost is the top reason for not re-enrolling in college, cited by 39 percent of men with some college but no degree. To address this challenge, exploring financial aid options, scholarships, and tuition assistance programs tailored to men is crucial.

Parents, including fathers, also face significant challenges finding time to pursue their education. Recognizing the unique constraints faced by parents, it is essential to implement flexible learning options, online programs, and accessible childcare support, enabling fathers to balance family responsibilities with their professional aspirations.

Competency-based education, an innovative model in which students advance by showing mastery of skills and subject knowledge, offers the flexibility that benefits adult learners, especially those transitioning into new careers or with significant caregiving responsibilities.

Nonprofit, accredited Western Governors University has demonstrated the effectiveness of online competency-based education, graduating nearly 500 students from its School of Education in Connecticut. WGU is currently training more than 38,000 students nationwide to become future educators and school leaders.

As Connecticut strives to bridge the gap and create a more balanced teaching workforce, let’s continue to offer out-of-the-box thinking and innovative approaches. It’s time to address the issue of the shortage of male teachers by reimagining the system and creating a teaching workforce that is reflective of our society. By challenging the status quo and societal expectations, and promoting the value of diverse perspectives, we can lay the groundwork for them to choose teaching as a fulfilling and impactful career path.

Rebecca L. Watts serves as a regional vice president for Western Governors University, a nonprofit, accredited university focused on competency-based learning with 820 students and 1,875 alumni in Connecticut.

Go to website.

June 19, 2023