Missing Male Teachers

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/94389936/94389777" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

When you were in elementary school, did you see many male teachers? I could've counted the Mr.'s at my elementary school before I even started kindergarten — 1, 2 (hi, Mr. Barnett and Mr. Heck*!). Turns out, according to the National Education Association, merely 9 percent of elementary school teachers are men. Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson sees those few male faces, and sees a problem. He had male teachers in the 3rd and 5th grades, and saw in them some differences in instruction style that he'd hate to have grown up without. Did you have any male teachers in elementary school? Did you learn differently from them?

*Note to Mr. Heck: You'd be so proud of me. Remember how you used to always dump my messy desk? I can't say I learned anything from that weekly routine — you should see my desk now!



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I had one male teaching assistant as a second grader in San Diego, a strong black man named Mr. Love. Even though he was the only male teacher in my elementary school days in the 1970's, he helped shape my opinion of men in general. He was patient and kind with all of us, and demonstrated that a real man could be a teacher.

Sent by Daria | 2:54 PM | 9-8-2008

As a mother of a boy with Asperger's Syndrome (an Autism Spectrum Distorder), one of his best years was 2nd grade when he had a great male teacher. All the boys in the class benefitted from this fabulous role model..

Sent by Angie | 2:55 PM | 9-8-2008

My kids both had a male teacher in preschool, who we are still close to and who my son (now 11) considers his mentor. Both my kids, ages 11 and 8, are in public elementary school in San Francisco, which is lucky to have many fabulous male teachers in every grade! We even have a male principal. And although it may be a broad (pardon the pun) generalization -- the male teachers my kids have had have been much more enthusiastic and inspiring than the female ones.

Sent by MJ in SF | 2:55 PM | 9-8-2008

I taught for 10 yrs K-8 PE and middle school language arts. For all of those years I was the only male in the school other than a janitor. My principal ask for me never to alone in the classroom with one or two students- regardless of gender.

Sent by Martin | 2:56 PM | 9-8-2008

My daughter had a young male teacher in kindergarden. In my opinion he was and is the best teacher in her elementary school. he was motivational, fun, caring and with a great sense of humor. He also coached baseball and hockey and encouraged parent participation in the classroom. We still talk about him to this day 5 years later and know that our daughter had such a great first experience in school.

Sent by becky lloyd | 2:57 PM | 9-8-2008

I am a female teacher and have taught middle school science for 6 years and I replaced a male teacher. I must say that a male teacher is a big influence and help particularly with unruly male students who respond favorably to the male discipline at home. Many boys respond better to male teachers. I must also say that when I started teaching EVERY teacher is told to leave their doors open. I had a girl crying in my classroom and even I was scared to hug her. I generally must blame the media for making everyone scared of predators.

Sent by Stacey | 2:57 PM | 9-8-2008

Why the assumption that Men are the heads of households and women are not, thus they women can afford to be underpaid and under appreciated teachers? This discussion is turning into a pity party for men. Why not do a show on why there are so few female university professors?

Sent by Kathryn | 2:57 PM | 9-8-2008

Our dad taught 5th and 6th grades for 33 years. Kids always came up to us with fond memories about his enthusiasm for all subjects. Robert Wallace, who died several years ago, loved learning,himself, all his life and was imaginative about the sciences especially. He had been a pilot in WWII; that's probably where his love of the skies, which became fascination for astronomy, began.

Sent by Dorothy Knable | 2:58 PM | 9-8-2008

I was 'in love' with my 5th grade teacher--not goofily or giddy with it--this guy had fabulous humour and sense of boundaries. He was a gentleman who sparkled and gave to all of us with his warmth. Having met men in my family who experienced their own sexuality inappropriately around young people, ranging to the in-law uncle who actually quite inappropriately touched me when I was four--
this man played a huge part in my healing. The conversation never came up, but I really relaxed and developed my own idea of what was the right way to behave with non-intimates, or respect to expect.
Hooray for male teachers to every age who have managed to find comfort in respectful boundaries. And good luck and compassion to those who are still working on it, as long as they don't subject the more vulnerable to their learning time.

Sent by littleStomata | 2:59 PM | 9-8-2008

There are many male teachers at West Elementary in Andover, MA. Three out of six fifth grade teachers are male. There are two male teachers in the fourth grade and this year there is one in the third. I have three girls and two of my daughters have male teachers this year. I am very excited for them to have this opportunity to learn from such positive male role models!

Sent by Carolyn P. Hughes | 3:11 PM | 9-8-2008


Sent by IWIL BAKER | 3:14 PM | 9-8-2008

My husband teaches special ed for K-2 students. He is committed to doing what is best for his students. I recruit for public schools, and am always thrilled to place a male in an elementry school. With the on-going global teacher shortage, I believe that the hard to find teacher...math, science, special ed...will soon be contractors, very much like most speech therapist are. These people will always make more money. For this to happen we must stop the flow of H1-B visa teachers they bring in from India, Spain, etc.

Sent by Jacqueline R. Gordon | 3:16 PM | 9-8-2008

I am a fourth-generation educator. The profession has always had an image problem for both men and women. (What was Ichabod Crane's profession?) Pay and medical coverage would be the primary issue for men, although more women are opting out of teaching to pursue more lucrative careers. What other profession requires the individual to keep reinvesting in his/her development and then ridicules them as incompetent, or worse, 'over-qualified'?
The assumption, too, is that the individual must work classroom miracles and pay for supplies when budgets are tight, and even, on occassion, food for individual students.
As Derrick Jackson pointed out, the young, the unmarried, those called to a 'vocation' to teach are less experienced, healthier, and cheaper for school systems to afford, despite the requirement by most states for a Masters degree to be earned within 5 years of initial job entry.

Another point: remember, we are not too far from the days when women were not allowed to continue teaching children after marriage (fear of 'carnal' knowledge contaminating students?). Today, men fight the pedophile bogeyman, although all teachers are given warnings about being careful using appropriate body language and keeping 'space' between teacher and students. The young male teacher that took over my Grade 5-8 music position when I retired two years ago never works alone with individual students from the Women's or Men's Choruses. I stop by, on occassion, to provide back-up when he requests another body to be around for coaching sessions and rehearsals for plays. This man is a superb teacher and musician and will not stay in this career, despite his love of his work.

Sent by Sara Houk | 3:30 PM | 9-8-2008

In Baton Rouge, I taught fourth grade in Teacher Corps in 71-72 and later taught as a long term sub third grade in New Orleans. I considered certification but became a probation officer instead.

I loved teaching. My Natation Teacher Exam score was in the top one percentile. My former wife was a teacher in New Orleans for over 25 years.

Sent by Ted Michael Morgan | 3:33 PM | 9-8-2008

Male teachers often stay in the classroom only long enough to gain an administrative degree and become principals. Remember, in education it's backwards...the farther away from students you get, the more the pay! Who makes the most in a district? the superintendent! Then come the administrators, and lastly the teachers. It is upside down. Until teachers are paid a salary that is commensurate with their education and knowledge, we will have few men in the profession. Until we value teaching as a true profession and treat teachers as professionals, nothing will change.

Sent by Maggie Woods | 3:47 PM | 9-8-2008

The lack of male teachers at the elementary level is a far-from-new phenomenon. My elementary years were from 1970 to 1979. I went to several schools of varying sizes and in four different states, and didn't have my first male teacher until grade 7. I have always felt that men just naturally related better and were more comfortable with older kids -- ??

Sent by Michele | 5:00 PM | 9-8-2008

I come from a family of teachers. My course of study was education but I dropped out of college before finishing. I believe education as a career was greatly diminished when our teachers became unionized. The honored profession of teacher went from a career to just another job. School administration & government agencies also denigrated the position by raiding education funding for other projects, not education programs, schools, teacher salaries, direct benefits to our children.

Sent by Sharon Kelley | 6:36 PM | 9-8-2008

I have worked my entire life as a male elementary teacher. Now, with two children in college, I have for the first time, questioned my choice of career. I went into the profession for the love of it... and I still love it... but there is no way to replace the low salaries I received over a lifetime career, especially when I first began. What I did not expect is being able to only barely afford my childrens' university undergraduate education at our local state college, even with scholarships. I now face paying off the debt from it for the forseeable future. I spend a lot of time thanking God my health is good and I can keep teaching... and praying the furnace doesn't go out this winter.

Sent by One of the 9% | 9:43 PM | 9-8-2008

Media fears about predation and low pay are only part of the reasons. The rest is about removing all normal male behavior from the school. After forty years of social reengineering that encourages all forms of female expression while drugging up boys for rough play, competition and "hating gurls", it's time to inspect this inequality in the educational job market.

Sent by Ian | 9:50 PM | 9-8-2008

My husband was told when graduating from college by his parents," Are you sure you want to be a teacher? You could do so much more." Today he wouldn't trade it for anything. The students notes bring me to tears every year as they graduate. He seems to be able to reach the kids who have it the hardest the most. They write things like, "You are like a father to me. You inspired me to be a better person, to go to college. You taught me that I can do whatever I put my mind to". What job gives you that?

Sent by Molly Elliott | 12:39 AM | 9-9-2008

One of the reasons there are no male elementary teachers is that schools are simply not interested in hiring them. Why go into a career where you cannot get hired? I graduated with a Masters degree in elementary education from one of the best programs in the NE. I received the Deans award for Academic Excellence and 2 of of my 3 PRAXIS scores are perfect (the third is within the top 5%). I was nominated for the state Distingished Teacher Canidate Award. I have great letters of recommendation from professors, supervisors and co-ops. Despite putting in hundreds of applications how many job interviews have I gotten at a public school in the last 2 years? One.

There is a lot of talk about the need for male teachers at elementary, but most administrators are scared to hire anybody that isn't young and/or female.

Sent by Lee Krystek | 2:06 AM | 9-9-2008

Male teachers is a great concept but someone in the family has to make some money. Maybe in other states teachers make enough to call it a decent living but in Texas that is not the case. A family where one parent works, if headed by a teacher, would exist just above the poverty line. Although evolving, the role of breadwinner is still typically filled by the male and teaching is too underpaid to be attractive.

Sent by Byron Alexander | 5:48 AM | 9-9-2008

I have been a high school and for a few years a middle school teacher most of my adult life. I will retire in a few years. I had Catholic nuns for all of elementary school, and mostly priests and brothers for all of high school.
In the public school system the pay is the same for any grade level, yet more men teach in middle and high school. I believe that part of the reason is that there is a different attitude on the part of teachers and administrators in the higher grades. Elementary schools are dominated by females and many men do not feel comfortable in a primarily female environment. The differences are subtle, but they are there. If you want to change the culture you need to staff some elementary schools with at least 50 percent men. Then you may see things begin to change.

Sent by Bill Calore | 7:39 AM | 9-9-2008

I actually had male teachers throughout my educational experience. In each setting (elementary, junior high, high schools) they taught several disciplines...math, English, history, science, music and even art. I actually enjoyed the experience as it gave me two different ways of thinking about things. And looking back over my experience, I remember the young men in the classroom were less antsy. Male teachers were definitely great role models. I can even remember instances where one teacher, Mr. Duncan (science teacher) even role played how young men could control raging hormones - talk about an eye opening experience for all of us - and it was a 'hit'. I would say several young men took it to heart and showed respect for female peers which in turn helped female peers respect them. Also, in high school...Mr. Archibald (history) had innovative ways for us to be more involved. He brought our classroom to life with relevant examples that gave us our 'aha' moments. And I can't overlook my great math teacher, Mr. Waugaman who made math a challenge but didn't leave us behind if we didn't 'get it'. As a matter of fact, we all got C's and D's on one particular segment in Geometry and he faulted himself for not teaching it in a way we could understand! Who says male teachers don't have patience, eh? Oh my goodness...I could probably go on and on with wonderful examples of wonderful experiences that come with having a male teacher, but I'll stop right here. I wish there were more men who would get into the field of teaching these days. I think it would be wonderful for our children.

Sent by Glendia | 8:03 AM | 9-9-2008

I have been a special education teacher for 13 years. Having taught in three states, I can tell you there are huge differences in pay and benefits among states. For example in Lincoln, NE, teachers pay $700 a month for family insurance through the school district. In Fort Lee, NJ, my pay increased by $20,000 and family insurance was fully funded by the school district. That's a big difference not accounted for by cost of living. Also, don't assume that teachers in NE have an easier job.

I'll never forget a conversation with a fellow teacher in NE (male, career teacher of 20+ years) during which he told me that his own children qualified for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. The look on his face was so disheartening

Sent by S.K. in FL | 9:34 AM | 9-9-2008

Men don't go into elementary teaching because the remuneration is so small for the effort required. And the reason the pay is so small? Because this is considered a "woman's field" and, as everyone knows, women don't need to be paid as much as men because they are just earning until they marry or to supplement the family income. These old time stereotypes are still with us. Enough said.

As a previous blogger said, stop whining. The speaker made it sound like men were pounding on the door to teach at the elementary level. Why aren't we talking about why the ratio of men to women teachers at the college level is so off-kilter? Because that is considered a worthy profession for men. This reminds me of the groups that form to "support white men's rights"...truly a discriminated-against minority.

Sent by JKB | 9:39 AM | 9-9-2008

I have read the many comments on money, prestige, uncomfortableness around a building of female teachers. None of these turned my away from an attempt at a career change.
The one comment that hit me hard was from Mr. Kyrsek dated 9-9-08. It reads very much like the letter I just wrote to the writer of the article, Mr. Jackson.
I have been subbing in grades K-8 for 5 years and have written many (over 200) job interest letters in this time. I have passed the Praxis II exam in middle school language arts and have an endorsement in history. This makes me "highly qualified" under NCLB to teach middle schoolers, yet still no fulltime position. I took the Praxis II only because the graduate degree and recent BA degree(honors roll) were not getting me to the interview table in elementary postions. Middle school seemed my only option. I had only one interview this summer.
Ironic that I heard the news article on Monday of this week. I extended my summer employment as an electrician as permanent today, with benefits. You cannot support a family on a substitute's daily wages.

Sent by Michael Wireman | 12:08 AM | 9-11-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from