by Stacey Garfinkle -

That’s the word that describes my emotions last week when we received the long-awaited postcard telling us who the first-grade teacher would be. While we’re lucky that our school has many very good teachers, there are a few I’d rather avoid. A good teacher means my son will likely have a great school year; a bad teacher means… Well, thankfully we haven’t had to cross that path yet.

Still, my relief was a bit tempered. Despite knowing that he got a great teacher who will be a good fit for him, I deep down hoped he might get the male first-grade teacher. Not only have I heard great things about Mr. Teacher from parents, I simply like the idea of my son being taught by someone his own gender.

I remember from way back when I was in school that many male teachers had a different way of relating to students than female teachers. Their anecdotes, analogies, senses of humor and expectations all uniquely enriched the students.

My thoughts were solidified in a conversation with Bryan G. Nelson, the founding director of Nelson is a longtime educator who works to recruit more men into the field of teaching. He agrees that men, particularly men of different races and cultures, bring distinct talents and ways of relating to kids.

There are three main reasons that teaching, particularly to younger children, is so dominated by women, Nelson says. First are stereotypes: “People don’t think men can do the work, that they aren’t nurturing,” he says. Other reasons he cites: parents fear male teachers will abuse their child and young teachers are discouraged because teaching is a low-status, low-paying job in relation to other careers.

According to the National Education Association, only 18 percent of elementary school teachers are men. Overall, men make up just 21 percent of 3 million teachers.

Nelson says there’s lots of data about what fathers offer kids, such as dads playing more actively and being more rough and tumble than moms. And while the studies aren’t as extensive on male teachers, they tend to play more on the playground with kids, he says.

“Why do we need to do research to verify the need for diversity?” he asks. “Did we research why women make good lawyers and doctors? No. It’s funny that we need to justify that children will benefit from having male and female in the classroom. … Amazing things happen in the classroom. [Children] benefit by seeing men and women interacting in the classroom.”

Nelson does see small changes, such as recruiting and mentoring programs for male teachers, and he is hopeful the male/female teacher ratios will get better.

Unfortunately for my family, first grade is the only opportunity for our son to have a male classroom teacher until middle school.

Does your school’s gender makeup give you pause? What has your experience been with male teachers?