August 14, 2012

WHAT OUR SCHOOLS NEED: A FEW GOOD MEN.

Despite some inroads by men, teaching remains a female-dominated profession. This is especially true for younger children. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 2% of pre-K and kindergarten teachers and 18% of elementary and middle-school teachers are men. . . .

First, men represent an underutilized talent pool. If we could attract more males to teaching, school districts would have an easier time hiring outstanding individuals. The point is not that men are better teachers, but that highly qualified men are far less likely to apply for teaching jobs.

Second, boys in particular benefit from the presence of male role models in the classroom. As Stanford University professor Thomas Dee has documented, in a study of more than 20,000 middle-school students, boys perform better when they have a male teacher, and girls perform better when they have a female teacher. If we want to do something about boys’ often sluggish classroom performance, more male teachers could be a useful step. . . .

How might we encourage more men to consider teaching?

Schools of education should aggressively recruit male applicants by working through high school guidance counselors. Teach for America should target male applicants. And well-designed performance pay plans for teachers might entice more talented men to choose teaching as a vocation.

We could also strengthen the Troops to Teachers program, founded in 1993. Rep. Tom Petri, R.-Wis., has recently sought to increase the number of veterans — most of whom are male — who are eligible to participate and to increase the number of schools in which they might serve.

Actually, what we need is Title IX-style federal legislation mandating that K-12 teachers in schools receiving federal funds be 50% men. In the name of fairness. And for the children.

UPDATE: Reader Jeff Burhans writes:

I taught in the public schools for a couple of years and usually the questions I got went something like this:

So, how many children do you have? – I’m not married.
Oh…so you’re gay then? That’s wonderful! – No, no, I’m straight.
Oh…um…Why are you teaching children then?

The implication and suspicion has always been plain on people’s faces. If you’re male and teaching kids – you must be gay, or a child molester. Possibly both.

Well, it’s precisely this kind of societal prejudice that calls for strong federal legislation to overcome it — just as we got strong federal legislation to address prejudice against women under Title IX.