Children benefit from having role models from both genders. That’s why, several years ago, the United States joined the many nations that launched campaigns to convince more men to become public school teachers. The effort was needed. In 2008, according to the National Education Association, the percentage of men in teaching hit a 40-year low of 25 percent and stayed there. That percentage, Monitor education reporter Sarah Palermo found, is even lower in New Hampshire. Just 22 percent of the state’s teachers are men. The great majority of them are high school teachers. While only 3.7 percent of preschool teachers are men and 15 percent of elementary and middle school teachers are male, men make up 38 percent of all high school teachers.
Few doubt that more male teachers would help children – particularly boys living in households with absent fathers – develop a better idea of what it means to be male: that men can be nurturing and supportive, enjoy learning and reading, can react to challenges nonviolently and value more than success in sports.
Most communities, including Concord, have increased teacher pay to a level that permits a solid or middle-class lifestyle. But better pay hasn’t been enough to convince enough men that teaching, especially teaching at the elementary or middle school level, is a viable option.
For many years, job security and respect from the community offset the low salaries paid teachers. Salaries have improved, but today school districts are laying off teachers. Enrollments are shrinking and teachers eligible to retire are working longer. That’s making it even more difficult to convince men that teaching is a viable career choice. There’s no easy answer to the gender gap in public education. But there are things that should be done to increase the odds that males will see public education as a path to a fulfilling career.
“If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, become a teacher,” President Obama said last year, when he joined Education Secretary Arne Duncan and filmmaker Spike Lee in a call for more black men to become teachers. The part about the opportunity to influence the lives of one or many children is true. Nearly everyone can think of a teacher, male or female, who deserves some of the credit for the adult they are today. But teachers also have to know that their community values what they do. That’s the part that’s too often missing.
“Those who can’t do, teach,” goes the old saying. That statement is both harmful and wrong. The saying should be, “Those who can teach, do, because it leads to a better citizenry, a stronger nation and a career that allows them to affect thousands of young lives.”
Especially in New Hampshire, where the burden of funding public education falls most heavily on those least able to bear it, the answer to the near absence of men in the ranks of teachers at some levels won’t be found in ever higher salaries. It will have to come in respect for teachers and gratitude for those who do it well.
New Hampshire has programs to allow adults who change careers to becoming certified to teach without spending additional years in college. Those programs need to be publicized. And to reduce the stigma that prevents men from choosing to work with young children, a big effort must be made to convince retired police officers, firefighters and military veterans to make teaching their second career.