The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that men are entering the teaching ranks in lower numbers than they were just five years ago. The question is why.
Some experts argue that a major reason men are avoiding teaching is that it is no longer a highly respected profession. A group of researchers and former elementary teachers in Vancouver last month for the American Education Research Association’s annual conference suggest that dwindling prestige and bias against men working with young children are the two main factors in men’s lower numbers.
Of course, small numbers of men in preschool and elementary school are nothing new. Men teachers make up only 2.3% of kindergarten
teachers, a drop of .4%. Men currently make up 18.3% of elementary and middle school teachers, a drop of .8%. At the high school level, 42% of teachers are men, down from 43.1% in 2007.
Researchers also suggest that the recession has contributed to men deciding not to enter the profession in light of layoffs and reductions in force, especially on the basis of last in, first out. Growing educational debt for a career that is no longer secure might also be a contributing factor for both genders.
Historically speaking, as the prestige of a career drops, women are more likely to rise to the top positions. In fact, even before the recession and teacher bashing as a national pastime, the percentage of women principals increased from 41 to 56% in elementary schools from 1994 to 2004 in elementary schools and from 14-26% in secondary schools during the same ten-year period. Still, when you consider that men make up less than 20% of elementary teachers, they manage to make up 44% of elementary principalships. Just 12 of the 50 largest school districts have women superintendents, according to the Kennedy School Review, and only 17 states have female education commissioners. And there have been only two female U.S. secretaries of education. So even with fewer men, gender equity in leadership positions hasn’t been reached.
The point of all of these statistics is not to once again point our the gender gap in education, but to note that kids need both men and women teachers and both men and women administrators. Beating up on the profession isn’t going to attract our best and brightest men or women. Kids lose out when they don’t have the opportunity to see men as well as women read, write, ask questions, laugh, and be kind. The problem isn't just ours; the London Telegraph reports similar reductions in the number of male teachers. Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, says, “There's a danger that boys could grow up thinking that education is sissy. When it comes to reading, they might be offered what appeals to the female teachers whereas male teachers often have different interests in reading." Whether you agree with Proffesor Smithers or not, it's clear that as we continue this downward spiral of poorly planned reform, fewer men entering the profession is just one more negative and unexpected side effect.
On another (but similar) note, a couple days ago I wrote about our national need to stop painting all of our schools as failures and to recognize that we do many things very well. Let me give a shout-out today to Megg Barss and her fellow seniors at Goffstown High School in New Hampshire. The students interviewed me as part of a documentary they are working on about whether today’s students have developed a sense of entitlement. I’ll be interested in seeing the results of their work.