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Education Reporter

Male Elementary School Teachers Harder to Find

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The number of male teachers in elementary schools has dropped to a 40-year low, with only half the percentage of men in the profession compared to 25 years ago. In 1981, men made up 18% of all elementary school teachers, an all-time high. In 2006, the NEA reported the percentage had dropped to 9%.

The proportion is similar in both public and private schools. The lower the grade level, the fewer male teachers are found. In high schools, 45% of teachers are male, and in middle schools, 27%. The proportion across all levels is 25%; and all of these figures also represent the lowest in 40 years.

With about 28% of American children living in single-parent homes, experts agree that male teachers can serve as valuable role models for boys. Again and again, educators present anecdotal evidence of fatherless boys whose classroom behavior drastically improves when they are taught by male teachers. Fatherless girls also benefit when male teachers demonstrate character and virtues that girls otherwise may not see, or expect, in male figures.

The NEA gives three reasons for the low proportion of male teachers in the younger grades. Lower salaries than in other professions cause men to avoid teaching, since they are still more likely to provide the sole or primary income for their families. Stereotypes also still associate teaching in general, especially teaching young children, with women. And when men do go into teaching, they often prefer to teach a particular subject, which leads them toward secondary rather than primary education.

Although these factors contribute, they don't explain why the percentage now is half of what it was in 1981. Public school teachers across all levels make about 19% more money, after adjusting for inflation, than they did in 1980. Some experts point to sexual abuse scandals as a factor driving men away from elementary school teaching. Parents and school officials sometimes react with suspicion to men who want to teach young children; and on the other side, potential male teachers sometimes fear they will be wrongly accused. "In the wake of child abuse scandals, we have transitioned to a female-dominated profession," Arizona professor Benjamin Irvin told the Tucson Citizen.

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