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Male Role Models Missing From the Classroom

by Linda Lyons, Education and Youth Editor

High on the agenda at last month's annual meeting of the National Education Association (NEA) in Dallas was how to recruit more men into the field of teaching. Just 31% of all public school teachers were men in 1961, according to the U.S. Department of Education (USDE), and that number has dipped even lower -- to less than 26% in 1996.

Gallup saw that coming. For 25 years, the Gallup Youth Survey (GYS) has been asking teens what kind of work they think they will do for a career. Only once -- in 1977 -- has "teacher" made the top 10 list for boys, yet it appears on every girl's career list -- nearly always among the top five choices.

Why do men shy away from careers in the classroom? The NEA cites lack of money and prestige. The American public certainly agrees about the need for greater financial incentives. According to the latest Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa survey* of the public's attitudes toward public schools, 88% of Americans think qualified teachers should be paid more in an effort to alleviate the anticipated teacher shortage.

"Teaching has been seen for the last 50 years as a female profession," according to Dr. Gary Gordon, Global Practice Leader for Gallup's Education Division. "Indeed, from the 1950s and for the next 25 years, teaching was one of a limited range of career alternatives for women. As career opportunities for women broadened in the 1980s and '90s, education lost its hold on this valuable labor source."

Dr. Joan Kowal, superintendent of Hayward (Calif.) Unified School, believes that money alone won't attract the best and the brightest men. "You've got to have a ‘grow your own' plan within your school district that includes identifying teaching talents in students and the guarantee of a good job after college graduation. Once male teachers come on board, the district needs to nurture them and help them see themselves as mentors."

The Need for Male Role Models

The lack of male teachers could have far-reaching social implications. More and more children are being raised in female-headed households -- now estimated at about 10 million by the U.S. Census -- and male teachers are more necessary than ever.

Other than parents, teachers have the most consistent contact with children, and are therefore important role models. In 2000, the GYS asked teens if they thought their schools were doing a good job teaching character education**. Sixty-five percent of all teens said yes and 93% said that having teachers as positive role models was the most effective way for schools to teach young people right from wrong. Furthermore, the lack of male teachers is self-perpetuating, with their absence as career role models, few young men consider teaching as an appropriate profession.

In an ideal world, teachers would be demographically representative of the students they teach. If males join the ranks, that will solve only part of the problem -- by 1996, 91% of all teachers were white, up from 88% in 1972 (according to USDE). New minority teachers aren't keeping pace with the rising population of minority students in the nation's schools, many of whom come from female-headed households. Therefore, the NEA is placing a special emphasis on recruiting minority male teachers with a particular eye toward getting more of them into elementary schools.

Key Points

Historically, American men have not been drawn to careers in teaching, since the vocation has not been valued as highly others in the United States, contrary to many other developed nations. There are two important reasons to hope for change: (1) the fact that half the population has traditionally been excluded from the teaching profession has contributed to a looming teacher shortage of massive proportions, and (2) as more children live in households headed by women, respected male role models have become increasingly essential.

*Findings for PDK are based on telephone interviews with a national cross section of 1,108 adults, 18 and older, conducted from May 23 to June 6, 2001. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3%.

**Findings are based on telephone interviews with a representative national cross section of 500 teens, aged 13 to 17, conducted April through June 2000. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5%.


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