Too few good men
Male teachers are rare in the lower grades. Educators hope to change that.
As a single mom a few years ago, Tracie Adams wished her kindergarten-aged daughter, Kristina, could somehow forge a bond with a caring, responsible man - a father figure.Skip to next paragraph
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"She didn't have a male role model at all," says Mrs. Adams, who has since remarried. "She only saw men when her friends were picked up by their fathers."
With few options at the time, Adams pinned her hopes on the school system of Louisville, Ky., to pair Kristina with a male teacher who could help fill a void in her life. Only in music classes, however, did Kristina have a man at the front of her classroom. Despite her lobbying efforts, Adams discovered what parents across the nation are finding: Demand for male teachers is growing, but so is the list of reasons why men don't go into teaching.
On the one hand, a recent survey shows that men continue to shun the field of early childhood education for seemingly timeless reasons: low pay, low status, and stereotypes about teaching youngsters as being a feminine endeavor. Add to the list a heightened fear of being accused of sexual abuse, and the result is a field saddled with a mounting image problem when it comes to recruiting men.
On the other hand, many children without a father at home crave a male presence in the predominantly female domain of elementary school. And as the push for more male teachers grows, a chorus of voices is delivering a fresh case for why men should consider teaching youngsters: They need what men have to offer uniquely as men.
"We all need someone to emulate," says Bryan Nelson, a former teacher and director of MenTeach, a Minnesota-based organization for the recruitment of male teachers. "Men show boys what they could become. And girls need to see a nurturing male in order to see what kind of men they'd like to have in their lives."
Few young boys or girls, however, ever see men in their classrooms. Of the 103,525 members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 4,000 are men. Men of color comprise an even smaller minority, with just 360 members. The organization represents those who work with children in and below third grade.
Nelson began researching the shortage of men after seeing those statistics firsthand at the school where he taught and at teacher conferences. At 6 foot 3 inches, he would look across the conference hall - what he terms "a sea of women" - and wonder, 'Where are all the men?' " His question led him to conduct and publish for NAEYC the 2002 survey, "The Importance of Men Teachers and Reasons Why There are So Few."
Analysis in the report aimed to dispel discouraging "myths," such as the notions that men who work with young children will sexually molest them, or that men are not nurturing enough to do the job well. The focus held to communicating why educators want to see more men teaching in early grades.
More than 97 percent of respondents said they believe in the importance of men working with children in early childhood education. According to Monitor interviews with administrators, parents, and teachers, men might enrich the educational experience in ways an all-women staff cannot. How they achieve that goal, however, is a matter of some debate.
One group says men offer intangibles available only from those with a Y chromosome. In his 11 years of teaching, Curtis Wilson has found that his female colleagues expect children to work quietly in their seats most of the time and to keep noise levels down. But he says men don't expect quite as much serenity from children.
"Men bring a different perspective to the classroom," says the kindergarten teacher in Wichita, Kan. "Men have more tolerance for noise, for active play and movement, and a vocal atmosphere."
Boys are apt to suffer when codes of conduct reflect the sensibilities of an all-female faculty, according to Megan Farnsworth, an education fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
"The way boys play with each other is inevitably rougher than girls," Ms. Farnsworth says. "When women set the rules, those rules tend to be based on how they would like to be treated if they were out there playing. But boys can't just play jacks and hopscotch. They'll go crazy."