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?


  1. I got here via a tweet by @irasocol - and I'm glad I did. I have three kids, the youngest of which is in 4th grade. We'll call him Q. Neither Q's brother nor sister were ever assigned a male teacher while in elementary school. Years K-5 for the two of them mean that there were 12 teacher assignments made, but it was never a male. Q went K-3 without a male teacher, so that makes 16 teacher assignments; all females.

    During those years there were usually 5 male teachers out of 40 total teachers in the school. This year there were two new male teachers added to the mix when many teachers (all female) retired (I'm in Wisconsin - also known as ScottWalkerStan - no longer a friendly state for educators).

    Q desperately wanted a male teacher - even though he couldn't articulate why. He just thought it would be "cool." He got assigned to one of the new male teachers. Here it is half way through the school year and he's still thrilled to have a male teacher. It makes me think about how he's always loved gym class even though he's not particularly athletic - but gym class is taught by a male, of course!

    I am envious of the work you are doing. I, too, would be willing to make less money to do something important. I taught accounting in higher ed for 17 years and then served as an administrator for 10 more. Then my job went away via budget cuts. I started an application to be an on-call substitute teacher in the local K-12 district. As you can imagine, I'm not qualified to serve as a sub. I have a masters degree and taught for 17 years - but I didn't attend the College of Education, so I'm screwed on that deal. I'm not sure if I could handle teaching at the elementary level - but I wanted to find out.

    I applaud you for doing what you do. You make a major impact on kids similar to my own. Don't let them wear you down, where "them" are those who think you're not doing manly work. They're idiots.

  2. I worry about the money that ALL teachers make, or the lack thereof, but I definitely see what you're saying about it being a status symbol and why men would be concerned about how they are perceived by others, especially their significant other.

    It's a shame that so many are kept from the profession ... so many kids thrive and appreciate having a male teacher, even at my grade level (7), but so much more as it gets earlier in their lives.

    Great article! It should be required reading during the first year of colleges everywhere!

  3. Greetings from a fellow male elementary teacher- I started my teaching career with 2 years in kindergarten and then did 4 years in 2nd grade. I learned so much from those kids and the entire experience I wouldn't trade for anything.

    You hit on some key points and it's something I think most/all male elementary teachers deal with. I don't think I personally ever cared about the pay or the low social status, but I was definitely aware of the macho/manly angle as a young guy straight out of college and into the kindergarten classroom (which was utter, fantastic chaos by the way). It was an insecurity I carried with me until everyone realized that I was just me...a low-key, energetic dude who loved kids.

    Of course, let's not kid ourselves here either- there are perks to being a male elementary ed teacher- whether employers will admit it or not, they will absolutely gobble up the males as fast as they can. And, as a young single guy it sure was nice to have plenty of great opportunities around to interact with colleagues. :)

    Regardless, I want to thank you for this post and trip down my favorite memory lane. I'm always trying to help guide young men I know if they show a propensity for younger kids and/or teaching. As you know, the potential to impact lives is absolutely huge, especially if you have the good fortune of teaching students who lack a male role model in their lives! I applaud you!

  4. Great post, you nailed it. I taught elementary school for 4 years, and one of the things that drove me out was the absence of other male teachers. As a young teacher, where were my role models? It was very difficult. Add in all the other issues you identify--low social status, incremental pay hikes, a never-ending day, and a general infantilization of the teaching profession--and it's impressive that anybody stays at all. Your students are lucky to have you.

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    1. @Barry, hoosjon, Steve, and Burt, thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. While I wrote just from my experience, I absolutely am having a blast doing what I do. I am pretty secure in my station in life as a teacher. It's funny, I usually don't have much to say on many social issues but when that question was posed to me, I let loose! I never really thought much about pay until about a year or so ago when my buds from college and I took our annual vacation. I noticed how their tastes in restaurants, and outings had become more expensive yet they never thought anything of dropping a lot of cash on it. When we all parted ways I realized things had changed. Thats where I started thinking about the proportionality of degree. We all went to the same college but got different degrees. They are done paying college off and I'm still stuck with loans.

      Men not in the profession is not the biggest issue that education fights right now, but its definitely something that I think gets glossed over.

      Keep being awesome, and thanks again for reading.