Danger? Men not working

Indiana University Media Relations

IU ed school students focus on lack of male teachers in elementary, early childhood settings

EDITORS: At the bottom of this release are audio comments that are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Website at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Historically low numbers of male teachers at the elementary and early childhood levels are the impetus for a new class offering at the IU School of Education in Bloomington. "Men in Education and the Male Teacher" is a graduate class developed by doctoral student Shaun Johnson.

According the National Education Association, the number of men working as elementary school teachers is at its lowest point in four decades. The NEA reports that only 9 percent of elementary school teachers are men. Less than a quarter of all public school teachers are male. The state of Indiana actually has one of the highest percentages of male public school teachers, at nearly 31 percent.

Johnson's interest in the subject came out of his teaching experience - a year in a Washington, D.C. public school, then three at a school in Montgomery County, Md. Johnson said he "stuck out," particularly in Washington, where he was one of three men teaching alongside 45 female teachers. He also said he felt some colleagues and acquaintances didn't take him seriously as a professional both within and outside the school.

"I sort of got frustrated after a while with people telling me how 'cute' it is that I teach," Johnson said. "You know, 'isn't that adorable?' It was a profession to me and it still is, and I take it very seriously."

Another doctoral candidate examining the issue found that kind of reaction isn't unusual -- and isn't innocuous. Volkan Sahin, who came to IU in 1999 from Turkey, conducted a study along with colleague Arif Yilmaz. Male elementary teachers he interviewed said they often felt an expectation to be the tough disciplinarian, fix broken items in the classroom and lift anything heavy.

"This actually bothers them," Sahin said, "just being seen as a handyman in the classroom. Not like a professional, not like a colleague, but like a handyman and a disciplinarian."

Sahin's research indicated four factors that make men enter the teaching profession and stay, despite the long hours, low pay and hard work:

  • Men with previous experience, such as volunteer work with children;
  • The desire to be a role model for kids;
  • A positive working environment in which colleagues and others support their work; and
  • Men who are parents.

Both Sahin and Johnson point out that other research indicates student achievement is not affected by teacher's gender.

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