Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A few good men

A question was asked to me and other male teachers on twitter this morning of why are there so few male teachers in elementary school. I think many male teachers all have their opinions of why but I am sure a repeating theme would deal with low pay, low status, or appearing weak.  Teachers are already dogged by the dumb "those who can, do, those who can't, teach" saying (worse yet, "those who can't teach, teach gym") and anything that appears inferior might not be the career choice a male is looking for.

Before I was a teacher, I worked as a retail manager of a small business. (I was a year or two removed from college and wasn't sure if I wanted to be a teacher. I had been swayed by all these ideas put in my head that we were all going to start off making a million dollars and live the lifestyle that we took for granted from which our parents provided for us. We were going to drive Beamers, live the country club life and vacation all  over the world. That was waiting for us. The only catch -you can't be a teacher and do that. So all my housemates and other friends all went into the business administration field. Some concentrated in Finance, others Economics, whatever. I chose Physical Education.) One thing I learned from that experience was whether five or fifty, if you tell a customer "no" they will throw a fit. Most of my customers were men. This witness their behavior was so confusing to me. The grown ups who made hurtful comments to me when I wasn't able to give them a product that they seem they should get for a huge discount was mind blowing to me. I thought adults were supposed to be more mature than that!

I left that job to become a teacher because I figured if I work with five and six year olds and they throw a fit,  I can chalk it up to one reason that makes perfect sense: they are five and six years old.

The three most popular reasons men don't go into elementary education according to Corrine Hess are:

1. Low social status
2. Low pay
3. Appearing Weak

Low Social Status
Social status is one of those tricky areas. Working in an elementary school, I love that young kids are in love with the idea of growing up to be a policeman, firefighter, nurse, teacher, etc. Their reason for wanting to do so is because they want to help others. My question is, where in the course between the age of five and  twenty do they stop wanting to do jobs that help others and why does that change?  How is that decision influenced? Social status wouldn't be important in choosing a career if it wasn't made to be so important in this country; the land of "if some is good, more is better."

I really struggle with those who view teachers as second class citizens. Not to be morbid, but in the history of the world, there are only but a handful of people who were so unique that we remember their accomplishments. What does a mortgage lender, financial advisor, or business owner do that is so much more deserving of social acclaim? Guess what, there were business owners and bankers in colonial times in this county and I bet no one reading this can name one.

Low Pay
What I have a problem most about this is not the pay, as much as the cost of the degree proportional to the the pay. A four year teaching degree will cost the same as a four year business degree, yet a business degree major has the opportunity to earn a living that can far exceed the costs of obtaining said degree.

Why not get a master's degree in education then and make more money? True, but any worthwhile increase in pay to validate purchasing more education would mean moving into administration or higher and leaving the classroom. What if you don't want to leave the classroom? Being a teacher then becomes a job with no upward mobility.

When my friends and I were in our mid twenties, we made similar starting pay jobs, but in just five years many of their salaries have more than doubled while while my pay is maybe a thousand or two thousand dollars higher than when I started. I enjoy what I do but there are times when I think I should look for a different career with a higher pay grade to help ensure that my kids get the same advantages that their peers in western Albemarle county will have. After all, a real man provides for his family. In this day and age that translates directly to one word: money

Woman's work
Men don't want to appear unmanly. And no matter what people say, there is still a perception that elementary education is for women and is glorified babysitting.

Teaching did used to be a male dominated profession. Before public school became the norm, wealthy families would hire tutors who were usually male, to educate their children. Private schools were taught by men as well. Although some things never change, they were not paid a lot but many used their teaching career as a stepping stone to become a college professor. The advent of the industrial revolution is where you have men leaving the profession seeking higher paying, higher status jobs, leaving women to fill the void.

Teaching at one point, on one social level in this country was also viewed as a job that provided a second income. It was never viewed as a "real job" but a job that a woman did which wasn't necessarily needed for the family finances. It was something to do. 

Teaching young children is not viewed very highly because of low pay and the nurturing of young children is not as valuable of a skill. A macho attitude towards what is a man's job is still rampant and teaching young children isn't viewed as macho.

These stereotypes are misguided and confusing to young men. Men these days are not nearly as  industrious as their fathers and grandfathers. What it means to be a man is different that what it was in the past. The social definition of what it is to be a man lies increasingly in what job they have and their status in the community. This has been the case for a long long time but with suburban sprawl, media, and internet, this image gets perpetuated even in the most remote places in America, leaving men and boys to think this is the way everyone everywhere does it. Eliminating the jack of all trades image and replacing it with the man who makes enough money to pay someone to do these jobs is the new norm.

A male teacher doesn't make the money a perceived "real man" makes. Playing with children all day is not macho. A status as a second class citizen is the mark of an inferior man. Why are there no male teachers again?