by Matthew Tabor - Blog - Education for the Aughts

[MenTeach: One of our readers, Mr. Philllip, forwarded this interesting commentary about a newspaper article about men teaching. Thanks Phil.]

Male Teacher Levels Hit 40-Year Low; NY Elementary Teachers Only 9% Male

Matthew K. Tabor reviews an article by Ernst Lamothe Jr. of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports that the number of male teachers nationwide has hit a 40-year low and that the number of male teachers in New York State elementary schools has halved in about 25 years:

Men make up less than 10 percent of elementary school teachers nationwide, and the total number of male teachers now stands at a 40-year low, according to the National Education Association.

The percentage of male elementary teachers in New York state has declined since its peak of 19 percent in 1980 to about 9 percent today.

The article is effusive with the human interest element – which really isn’t interesting at all – but it’s worth reading for the nuggets about the state of teaching in New York.

NEA President Reg Weaver says that there’s a perception that men go into education to “teach the subject,” while women enter to rear and nurture children. I don’t know who perceives the situation that way, but it would be interesting to know. He goes on to say that:

“Others see teaching as women’s work that’s not lucrative enough for them to provide for their families, which is very important to men,” added Weaver. But “having male teachers is essential, because for some kids, these are the only men they have in their lives.”

Weaver’s mind is stuck in the campy Sociology 101 class he took a generation ago, but we know that improved pay will bring higher-quality, talented people into the profession regardless of gender. Strong, intelligent people are a necessity in education for a host of reasons, one of which is influencing students who may not have two strong parents at home. Then it gets saucy:

Also, some people are suspicious of men who want to teach younger kids.

“When parents see newspaper articles detailing male inappropriate behavior with students in middle and high schools, some may feel wary about having their small children taught by males,” said Jody Siegle, executive director of the Monroe County School Boards Association.

This puzzles me. I won’t even address the absurdity of thinking any male teacher is, deep down, an insatiable pedophile for wanting to work with young students. Recent stings – like this one a few days ago – along with plenty of statistics show us that offenders come from all walks of life, not just teaching.

Gender politics, sex offenders, teacher pay, gender stereotyping, professional stereotyping, plenty of human interest – and then finally someone says it:

“Given all the issues, the gender of elementary school teachers just doesn’t come up,” Siegle said.

As a former elementary school teacher, Greene, now principal at Jefferson Avenue Elementary in the Fairport district, enjoys seeing the occasional male applicant, yet he knows that can’t be the No. 1 hiring factor.

“We’re thankful whenever we find quality males, but we can’t just say because you are male, we’re going to hire you. We still have to find the best person for the job,” said Greene. Jefferson has 11 men among its 65 teachers.

At least we know one administrator in New York State still focuses on the real issue: teacher quality. The issue of teacher quality should triumph every time.

Lamothe would’ve impressed me had he asked the following questions:

  • How do these statistics relate to those for undergraduate and graduate students in education? Are they reflective of the same trends the colleges are seeing?
  • Are colleges doing anything to address these trends?
  • Are there different attrition rates for male and female teachers in NYS schools? Do those rates differ from national averages?
  • Are there any other real explanations for these trends beyond tired stereotypes? I assume the NEA has thought a bit about it, but I could be wrong.
  • Is there any discernible difference in the effectiveness of male and female teachers?
  • For what it’s worth, the best teacher I had in K-5 was male. It was because he was a highly-intelligent, knowledgeable teacher with the appropriate amount of levity and compassion for the fifth-grade level.

UPDATE at 4/3/07, 3.34pm:

Mr. Lamothe responds in the comments of his article:

My name is Ernst Lamothe Jr. and I am the reporter who wrote the story about the lack of male teachers. I would like to address some of the questions that people have asked. The reason why education experts believe gender diversity is important is because children learn in various ways and having only one type of teacher can’t always feed that need. Everyone has had multiple bosses in their lives that they worked with. Some bosses you remember relating to well and others you just couldn’t connect with. Imagine if you only had bosses that you could not relate with. Also it’s common knowledge that men and women think differently about many things and approach situations from varying angles. Experts are not saying that women haven’t done a superb job teaching elementary school. But whenever you have only one group performing a task, you miss out on other viewpoints. Men entering women-dominating fields and vice versa can enhance professions.