Reader's Comments about why so few male teachers

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.

April 3, 2007

Got to Matthew Tabor's blog

My take on why there are fewer male teachers.

I am a male teacher in New York State, who went back to school in my mid forties as a "non-trad" student. I just finished a long term Special Ed job after 5 months. It was supposed to last two years. I think I can shed some light on some of the reasons why there are fewer male teachers.

The elementary teacher school culture has become a subculture all its own, with hidden rules, hierarchies, norms and mores. I remember that when I worked as a Rec Program Leader in a NYS correctional facility, in the 80's. I learned about the prison culture, which is like a mini-society all its own, with its own rules and power structures.

Judging from what I have seen of my sons' elementary teachers, and from what I have experienced, and from what I have heard others have experienced, I believe that there are fewer men in the elementary schools because (a) they are not totally accepted in the Elementary School Teacher Culture, (b) they don't "make it" in that culture, or (c) they refuse to put up with the stupid stuff that that culture mixes into the educational process.

I believe that culture is isolated and entrenched, and the fact that they are isolated tends to make elementary teachers judge the world by their sub-culture. They often become overconfident, and they become very inflexible, in terms of being able to handle anything different than what they are used to and what they know, unless it is forced on them by administration, particularly because of State and Federal Standards. So--add the element of fear to that isolated subculture.
What you get is something very similar, and just as insidious, as a religious cult. I think there should be ethnographies done of “hidden” teacher cultures that get to what I'm talking about.

Let me give some examples.

One of my son's has Aspergers syndrome. Several of his elementary teachers stated to the school psychologist that "they didn't even want to hear the word Aspergers," because they had their own theories of my son's issues. We, who had done the leg work and research and were, after all, the parents who they say "know their children best," must not have known what we were talking about. The teachers knew better. Perhaps we should have been paying them for the psychological consults and evaluations, etc, that we had done with other qualified professionals over the years. That is a story I hear again and again from parents of children who have special needs, who are trying to get appropriate services and best practices instituted in the schools for their children.

I got 2 master's degrees--one in Childhood Ed and the other in Special Ed. In this latest adventure of mine, I was almost destroyed as a potential teacher! And I have been hearing this is not uncommon for new teachers.

You get your first break as a long term sub that is long enough to pay teacher salaries and benefits. This--after seeing many 24 year-old females get hired--who have no life experience, very little teaching experience, no kids, house, or other responsibilities. Or-you see people with bad attitudes get jobs and even get tenure.

Part of the "culture" is what you "can" and "cannot" say during an interview. You can't have your own thoughts. You can't be too innovative. You have to have quick, short answers that lend the interviewers to be able to picture you as a teacher in one of their classrooms. Right there, there is a problem. What they imagine is what has become the traditional, young female elementary teacher. If you are not that, or come across "too different," you can count on not getting the job. I was told not to mention any researchers, because that would be too heady, and I've even been told by one interviewer that I came across as "too scholarly." You have to “look and act the part!”

Then, eventually, you get your first break and enter into the school culture. You may have been in this school before. Everything seemed great. The teachers requested you, because you were such a good sub. Don't people go from subs to real teaching jobs? (There is one local district that is well known for not hiring their subs. They hire from out of state and lay off the TAs with master's degrees that are local. This has been confirmed to me by many who work there.)

But, and here is another tenet of elementary school teacher culture, what the teachers are to your face has nothing to do with what they really think. The concept of "professional" is that you never say what you are truly thinking or feeling out loud in front of the wrong people. It is like mine field of hidden rules. Who do I say this to? Who do I say that to? How can I truly contribute collabortively if I have to keep my opinion to myself. The rule is that you can't "say anything" until you are tenured. And even then there are rules about what you can and cannot say.

Here is another aspect of that culture: Elementary teachers tend to be alarmists. Anything that upsets or threatens to upset the status quo and power structure of their culture is reacted to immediately! When I as a special ed teacher pushing into various rooms, teachers would literally run to the principal's office when I did something they thought wasn't right. One teacher eventually had an e-mail full of documentation of all the mistakes she thought I made over the past several months. And she is one of the "sweetest" people to your face.

I think she is, generally, a sweet and caring person. But I think she, and several others, are paralyzed in fear that there might be what they consider a mediocre teacher in their midst, and, "for the sake of the children," must defend their current practice at all costs! These are good and compassionate and skilled teachers, but people who overstep their bounds and have "high expectations" in the form of performance pressure that gets put onto any new people.

You are judged. There is no way around that. Even though they are not your bosses, they have the power to make you feel very uncomfortable, all the while being "nice" in front of you. One teacher who blew up at me at one point said, "I've never been anything but good to you!" but behind my back she was very upset at my style of teaching and at what she perceived as my new teacher gaps.

I read all this on their faces in the past several months. It paralyzed me. I was working 12+ hours a day (and I have a family with two special needs boys and a wife with health issues). The teachers could say no positive thing about me, as they observed my many mistakes. And I knew when I was making many of the mistakes, because I'm extremely reflective about my practice. I was terrified to come in every day. It just meant more failure in something I thought I had was gifted at and that was very important to me.

And when I, in a sense of openness, honesty and authenticity, indicated at all that, at times, I may not have known what I was doing (big news, right? How many times to even experienced teachers have that feeling? Very often!!!) , that only opened the door for these genuine but codependent people to be more confident in their assertions, hidden or not, of my perceived "incompetence."

So, according to the rules I have learned, you are never supposed to be totally honest about what you can't do. "They" will take that the wrong way and your honesty will turn into a disadvantage. Excuse me, I didn't learn that in teacher school. Maybe that's where the teacher prep programs are failing--they don't address this hidden culture and how to survive it.

If it wasn't for the constant encouragement of my boss, the Special Ed Director (a guy) and a couple colleagues (one who had been through this scenario a couple of times!!!), I would have been ruined as a teacher forever! I never hear about this insidious, cultic, powerful and dangerous culture when I hear about falling teacher retention rates and teacher burn out. I never hear about this from the politicians who set the educational "standards." (Perhaps because the political culture is so similar in many ways!)

This, I believe, is the proverbial "elephant" in the middle of the room. This tight, unwelcoming culture of people who think they know more than they do, in spite of their high skills and ability to teach, is the set of iron bars that, if you cannot "get through," you will not be able to be successful as an elementary school teacher. I just think that men---especially men who want to teach---don't have time for that. And I believe that many men have too much personal integrity to put themselves through such an undignified meat-grinder-of-emotions!

Asst. Super. Florida Pinellas says no shortage here

In a candid conversation in the parking lot of the Federal Bldg in Tampa, the Asst. Superintendent told me: Perhaps only 7% of our teaching staff is male but that does not mean we have a shortage of male teachers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That clearly implies
that they don't want more.
I am currently working as a tutor at a Title I school after school under the NCLB act with a private firm at Sandy Lane Elementary and had a conversation yesterday with the school secretary and I asked her how many male teachers they had at Sandy Lane Elementary and she said about 4%. I told her I had no luck finding a full time job.....and related my experiences.....she replied that the school could benefit from a lot more male teachers but she said in a low voice.....they just don't want to hire men.