Where Are the Male Teachers?

July 17, 1992

In this country, teaching always has been considered, condescendingly, a "women's profession" -- a legacy of outdated sexual stereotypes that defined men as "breadwinners" and dismissed teaching as "women's work."

Today there is general agreement that public school students could benefit from seeing more male teachers -- especially minority males -- as role models and mentors. But for all the talk, not much progress has been made.

The reasons are obvious. Teacher pay scales traditionally have been lower than those for other professions, and opportunities for promotion and pay raises are limited. A recent survey by the National Education Association found almost three-quarters of public school teachers were women, while the percentage of male teachers is at its lowest point in 30 years.

No wonder there's a dearth of male teachers in inner-city elementary schools classrooms -- where positive role models could have the biggest impact. A few systems have experimented with recruiting more men teachers in general and more minority men in particular, but the impact has been relatively modest.

To increase the number of male teachers, the status of the teaching profession must be raised. There are many problems facing public schools and many unmet needs in addition to the shortage of male teachers -- more textbooks, better teaching methods, smaller classes, expanded after-school programs. But of paramount concern is persuading the public that an investment in education is vital to the nation's future, and that what happens in the classroom is as crucial to our future as what happens in the boardroom.

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