The Status of Male Teachers in Public Education Today
School districts and teacher preparation programs should collaborate more and schools should promote gender equality and social justice to help alleviate the lack of male teachers in U.S. public schools, according to a new Education Policy Brief from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at Indiana University.
The study, called “The Status of Male Teachers in Public Education Today” by Shaun P. Johnson, a graduate research assistant at CEEP, concludes that the lowest percentage of male teachers in decades — only one in 10 elementary school teachers is a man — is a threat to gender equality, social justice and other democratic values.
“It’s an inappropriate example of living in a democracy where we try to promote equality and fairness, egalitarian values in our schools,” Johnson said. “We’ve got these schools as an institution that are supposed to reproduce our culture and our values, but are extremely stratified based on gender. And it keeps going and going for 150 years or more.”
Just a quarter of public school teachers in the United States are men, according to the latest data from the National Education Association. Indiana has one of the highest percentages of male teachers at 30.5%, more than six percentage points above the national percentage. The portion of men who are teachers is lower in early childhood education.
Johnson’s brief dismisses the notion that the so-called “boys crisis” — the idea that boys are failing U.S. education because of lower standardized test scores — would be remedied by more male teachers. The brief also states that as long as there is a great disparity in the teacher workforce, children will continue to form sexist gender relations, based on the concept that “women teach and men manage.”
“I find it hard to believe that 90 percent of the given male population doesn’t want to teach,” Johnson said. “So we have to start asking these questions — what are the subtle systems in place that are discouraging men from teaching?”
Historically low teacher salaries have certainly contributed to the issue, the brief found. Pay scales did not increase dramatically when compulsory education and population growth required more teachers at the turn of the 19th century. Johnson’s research found that education reformers often advocated for teaching as better suited to women, who could be paid about a third as much as male teachers. The brief states “it is inappropriate to conclude that teaching is more appropriate for women than men.”
The issue is more complicated than just one of pay scale, Johnson said. “There’s a lot of guys who take very low-paying jobs and also have the pressure to be a breadwinner,” he said. “Yet, they’re still not teaching.”
The brief suggests a larger effort toward changing the likelihood of men entering teaching. For one, Johnson said there should be more research into the issue of men teaching in public schools. One of the recommendations of the brief is that there should be a comprehensive and well-informed research agenda for the issue.
“Men’s studies are relatively common — they’ve been relatively common since the ’80’s — but nothing specifically geared toward an educational audience or students within a school of education that talk about this issue,” he said.
Schools of education and local school districts should establish more collaborative relationships to explore the issue and recruit more men, the brief recommends. Furthermore, the brief states that local school districts should do more to promote gender equality and social justice in their communities.
“We need to make sure that schools not only take on more male teachers,” Johnson said, “but individuals who have the kind of values that are going to perpetuate more diversity in the teaching profession.”
Johnson started a course called “Men in Education and the Male Teacher” at the IU School of Education last year.
The full policy brief is available at: http://ceep.indiana.edu/projects/PDF/PB_V6N4_Winter_2008_EPB.pdf.
CEEP promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for education, human services and non-profit organizations. Its research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. More about CEEP is available on the CEEP website, http://ceep.indiana.edu/.
The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://www.education.indiana.edu. Look for this news release under “News” on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.
Johnson says pinning down an actual “problem” with a lack of male teachers is itself problematic:
“I guess that’s been the toughest thing for me, because as a former elementary teacher I started with that idea, ‘well, you know kids need more guys to model guy things.’ Then you start learning about work and masculinity and gender and you realize, ‘well, those lines between men’s and women’s roles are very fuzzy. There are a lot of gray areas if you get stuck into this ‘I can model this masculinity.’ That’s the same kind of thinking that causes this disparity in the teaching profession in the first place, that teaching is a job for women, that working with little kids is the place for women, it’s domestic, it’s tied to the home. So I do see it as a problem, but I’m trying to attack it in this brief as being an inappropriate example of living in a democracy where we try to promote equality and fairness, egalitarian values in our schools and we’ve got these schools as an institution that’s supposed to reproduce our culture and our values that’s extremely stratified based on gender and it keeps going and going for 150 years or more and so I’m starting to take it from that perspective.”
Just raising teacher salaries isn’t adequate to solve the problem, Johnson says:
“The idea about the low salary issue is that it is complicated and it affects men and women very differently. So just to sit here and say, ‘Oh, well the best solution is just to increase teacher salary,’ first of all, that would be extremely expensive. You think there are 4 million teachers out there. You give everyone a $1,000 raise; you’re talking about a ton of money. It just would not work. Then you’re not even getting into the quality of these teachers and those other kinds of issues, so it’s a little more complicated than just low salary. There’s a lot of guys who take very low paying jobs and also have the pressure to be a breadwinner and yet they’re still not teaching.”
The real issue with a lack of male teachers is one of values, according to Johnson:
“But when you see such a strong disparity, we’re talking 90-10 percent in the elementary at least, some of these disparities are seen in other traditionally feminine occupations like nursing or something like that. I find it hard to believe that 90 percent of the given male population doesn’t want to teach, they don’t like kids, they don’t want to clean diapers and mop the floor at home or something like that or clean up after themselves. I find that hard to believe. So there has to be some kind of coercion or some kind of system in place that discourages men from actually teaching young children. So we have to start asking these questions, what are these subtle processes? What are these subtle systems in place that are discouraging men from actually teaching? It’s more than access. It’s more than career choice. It’s really getting down to the fundamental aspects of education. If they’re expected to promote these values, then we can’t have this kind of representation in the work force.”