Think about the teachers you had growing up. How many of them were men? How many were women? Now that I think of it, the vast majority of my elementary school teachers were women. When I got into middle school, there were more male teachers, but the majority were still women. In high school, the ratio was about 60–40 women to men.
I mention this now because I am a teacher now, and you don’t have to be in education spaces long to realize there’s a huge push for more male teachers, particularly Black male teachers and male teachers of color. According to Education Week, an AASA survey found 70% of all K-12 educators are women.
Over the summer, I sat in a room (on Zoom) with 24 current and former educators. We were coaching new teachers for my teaching program, and as I scanned the screen, I realized I was one of only two men. Everyone else was a woman. I’ve been thinking about gender and education for a long time, and that definitely brought the issue to the forefront.
Many people want better male role models, male role models that can model positive, peaceful behaviors. This argument especially comes with the implication of absent fathers.
But I feel like this rationale is based on a problematic stereotype, particularly where I teach in Baltimore City, a majority Black city. The stereotype is “these kids don’t have positive male figures in their lives,” which is true in some cases but not necessarily true in every case, and I find it a logical fallacy to conclude that because some students don’t have positive male role models in their lives, a male teacher is supposed to fill that role.
I saw a colleague and good friend, who my supervisors didn’t think was doing what he was supposed to do, once get told “you could be a positive Black male figure in these kids’ lives, but you’re not!”
That’s just way too much of a gap and too much pressure to put on someone. We’re just teachers. The sudden need to become a positive father-like figure is a bit too much, and I don’t think it’s very fair either.
And research from the Economics of Education Review found there is no empirical evidence to support teacher gender having an impact on student academic performance across 15 OECD countries. The bigger role models for children are peers or relatives over teachers. The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) found little evidence to support children without fathers find a father figure in male teachers.
“Additionally, with teaching being fundamentally different to parenting in scope, duration, and intensity, there are good reasons to avoid conflating these two roles in a child’s life,” the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) says.
However the AARE also says the case for male teachers isn’t these old-fashioned reasons, but a need for greater gender diversity in teaching and breaking the perception that teaching is a female profession, and expose children to peaceful, non-violent, emotionally steady men with “gender-equitable versions of masculinity.”
I am speaking for K-12 education as a whole, but the reality is many schools have a gender breakdown similar to my educational experience as a student. As students progress from primary to secondary schools, they are more likely to see more male teachers.
The biggest gender disparity where students are exposed to the least male teachers is in elementary and early childhood education.
I hate to say it, and perhaps I should just keep this to myself, but a big reason why many male teachers would never want to be elementary educators, at least not at the Kindergarten, 1st grade, or 2nd-grade level is that they don’t want to be perceived as pedophiles. As a male teacher myself, I can unfortunately completely see that fear.
Sarah Elizabeth Richards at Salon interviews a variety of Kindergarten teachers who had to defend their career choice and who were asked if there was something inappropriate behind their career choice. Some get accused of being a pedophile, and many parents request only female early elementary teachers. In 2006, the National Education Association said only 9% of Kindergarten teachers were men.
This is likely not the biggest factor, as education is sometimes still perceived as a “female” profession for some. But the whole “role model” argument is a bit one-sided — why does no one talk about female teachers being positive female role models for female students?
For many, the argument and push for more male teachers come down to balance. Students should be exposed to positive male and positive female figures, and that’s an argument I can see more than the old-fashioned ones.
I see the need for more male teachers, particularly at the elementary level. I’ve heard more arguments for male teachers from female teachers, as a matter of fact. I’ve heard some of my female peers who teach at the elementary level say “this new teacher will probably be fine because he’s a man” and “we definitely need more men in our school.”
I don’t teach at the elementary level. I’ve taught in middle schools and high schools, so perhaps I’m insulated by these old-fashioned gender dynamics and the need for more male, and particularly more male teachers of color in education.
So I see where the push for more male teachers is coming from, but my pushback and concern is it should not come at the expense of having qualified female teachers in the classroom as well. What about having more female teachers in STEM, as an example?
“Despite the resurgence of the war on boys narrative, there is no reason to think that a female-dominated teacher workforce is problematic,” the Brookings Institute says.
More male teachers are not a band-aid for education’s problems. These problems are all very systemic, but when I think back to my teachers it wasn’t the gender of the teacher that ever made me connect with them at a deeper level.
It was the teacher’s content and personality more than anything — and there’s a good point that a teacher is just a teacher. At least that was what it was like in my education, and I’m sure to some of my students, I will just be a forgettable blip in the grand scheme of their lives. That doesn’t mean I didn’t make my mark, influence, and help students learn, but there are many people in our lives that come before teachers.
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