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VOL. 42 | NO. 40 | Friday, October 5, 2018

Few men enter teaching: Why it matters

By Hollie Deese

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Alvin Haney interacts with his first period science class before they prepare for a test at Meigs Magnet Middle School.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Alvin Haney has just begun his 26th year at Meigs Magnet Middle School, teaching 7th grade science and coaching track. Of the more than 30 teachers at the school, Haney is one of six males – a high number when considering the national average.

The country’s teachers are largely female, according to research released last year by the National Center for Educational Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education, and overwhelmingly white.

The 2015-16 survey finds about 77 percent of teachers are women. In primary schools, nearly 9 in 10 teachers are women. In high schools, only about a third of the teachers are male.

Plus, about 80 percent of teachers are white, while 9 percent are Hispanic, 7 percent are black and 2 percent are Asian.

Haney says for many of his students he is the first black male teacher they have ever had and recognizes the importance that they see him in a position leading a classroom, where they’ve mostly seen females in that job.

“I really think it’s important that they see a black male teacher, that they see me in a role where I’m leading a classroom, being able to show them that the images that they’ve seen in social media and the public and on TV, are black males doing anything other than being in the classroom,” Haney points out.

“They just think we’re the janitor, we’re the guy that works in the cafeteria, we’re the school security or we’re the P.E. teacher, but in an academic classroom setting, I think it’s important that everybody sees that.”

Why men teach – or don’t

Haney’s family moved to Nashville when he was in the second grade, and he went through the Metro Nashville Public Schools system, attending Eakin, Head, Washington, West End, Pearl High School before it became Pearl-Cohn. He then graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1983.

He earned a biology degree at Tennessee State University and become an educator, though he was originally thinking about pre-med. His parents suggested he take some teacher education classes to see if he liked it.

“I started taking those along with my science curriculum, and decided that’s the way I want to go. I just really fell in love with it,” Haney says.

Since his career choice was supported by his parents, it made a big impact on his decision to go into teaching. It helps that they were both in education. His dad was a college history professor who taught at Vanderbilt and TSU, and his mom was a high school biology teacher before switching to a career in publishing. His sister is also a teacher.

“They were very methodical in what they did as far as making sure that we were exposed, my sister and I, to the right things,” he recalls. “Education was always important in our household. I guess seeing what they did every day and how they ran their lives, just wanting to be like your parents, wanting to be like my dad, so that definitely inspired me.”

But being like dad is a reason many boys do not go into teaching.

“I really think it’s important that they see a black male teacher,” Haney says of his students, “that they see me in a role where I’m leading a classroom.”

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Ben Diles recently started his 21st year teaching at Columbia Academy, his first job out of college. Originally from central Arkansas, he went to Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, when reps from Columbia came there looking for teachers that share the same denominational affiliation.

He teaches senior Bible and supervises spiritual development, but over the years has taught AP U.S. history, world history, and geography. He also has coached football.

Diles originally went to college wanting to be an attorney. That changed as he thought about the possibility of defending people if it went against his beliefs.

“Over the time that I spent in college, I kind of questioned whether or not I wanted to be an attorney, whether I wanted to do criminal law, or any kind of law,” Diles explains. “I didn’t want to defend people that I believed to be guilty. I didn’t really want to go into politics. I basically looked back at my options and said, ‘Well, what do I enjoy?’

He enjoyed history and sports, particularly football. The spiritual aspect in his life drove him to the private education field. “Somewhere around my junior year I decided that I preferred to teach. Or at least start there, and then go back to law school later,” he says. “Twenty-one years later, I don’t want to go to law school, and I’m happy I made the choice I did.”

Diles also had the benefit of educators in his family which helps mitigate stigmas about male teachers. Both of his uncles were school administrators, his mom was a teacher and his grandfather was a high school superintendent and principal. “It’s been in my family for two or three generations now,” he adds.

But that doesn’t mean Diles has not felt the stigma surrounding male teachers, even from his own father. Diles’ dad was a lineman for an Arkansas power company. In that line of work, Diles says there was some disdain for people who were not blue collar.

“It’s like teaching is an easy, cushy, soft job. It’s not a real job. That’s the kind of mentality,” he recalls. “There was a little bit of that, but I think my dad was also glad that I wasn’t a linemen. It was a weird mix of both.”

A K-12 school in Maury County, Columbia Academy has few male teachers. Diles says the entire time he has been at the school, there has only been one male teacher for K-6, the PE teacher. By middle school the mix is closer to 50/50. But of those men, almost all of them also coach.

“I haven’t worked with many male teachers that haven’t coached,” he says.

Diles contends the shortage of male teachers has something to do with the lack of value society places on teachers in general, and male teachers especially. Salary and the deeply-rooted mindset that teaching is a woman’s job are some of the issues, especially in the lower grades.

“I know this doesn’t apply to everybody but, men tend to be more concerned for their ego and image and wrap that into their work,” Diles continues. “I think that discourages a lot of them. That the old phrase, ‘Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,’ everybody has heard at some point. I think that does discourage people.”

Ethan A. Zagore, director of the educational talent search TRiO program at the University of Notre Dame, says a combination of strategically intentional actions and a change in perception are both necessary in order to shift the mindset and get more men in the classroom.

“A gradual increase in elementary teacher salaries would be an excellent first step,” he says. “Elementary school teachers must be compensated to reflect their impact on a student’s academic future, which is often related to their financial future.

“In turn, a comprehensive effort to increase salaries, and the positive press associated with the action, would begin to alter public perception regarding the importance of elementary teaching and aid in dispelling the notion that becoming an elementary teacher is a guaranteed road to financial frustration.”

Zagore says of equal importance, postsecondary institutions must serve as a liaison between male high school upperclassmen with the passion and ability to teach, and the actual elementary classroom, where these same male students can change lives after graduating from college.

“For institutions of higher education, developing a series of programs which direct students from freshman year of college to elementary classrooms and offering excellent scholarship packages for those academically achieving in majors towards the teaching profession, are both essential in getting more males in elementary classrooms.”

Hillary Tubin, founder of Boy-Responsive Literacy Consulting, LLC and the author of “Boys and Books: What You Need to Know and Do So Your 9- to 14-Year-Old-Son Will Read,’’ has a mission to help parents and educators reshape reading and show them how to become the reading role models boys need.

And, she says, it can help create male teachers.

“By the age of 7 or 8, most boys start to realize that girls are much better readers than they are,” she explains. “When they look around to see who else they know that reads, it’s usually their mom and their teacher, who is typically female. For many boys, this is a defining moment in their lives: reading is a girl thing, not a boy thing, and they stop reading for pleasure.”

With more male teachers in a school, Tubin says boys would see first-hand men reading aloud to their students, hear men talking about books, and have men recommend books on a daily basis.

“This would then help boys realize that reading isn’t just for girls, it’s for them too. Only when that happens will the reading gender gap between boys and girls close,” she says. “As for why there is a shortage, I believe it’s the same reason why boys don’t think reading is for them: gender stereotyping.

“Teaching isn’t something most boys grow up aspiring to be, so when these boys graduate and chose a major in college, elementary education isn’t top of mind. And if it was, someone along the way most likely steered them away from it and told them to choose something ‘more appropriate.’”

Why boys need men

As society shifts, Diles says men in positive roles are more valuable, perhaps now more than ever.

“Examples of successful males are needed for people who maybe come from a background where they don’t have any of that in their family, or their home life,” Diles adds. “I think it’s important to expose people to the ideas that there is more to life than making money. That there’s more to life than being the president of a country, or a state representative, or governor. That there is value in service, and to see men that are willing to put others above their own career, I think is something that’s needed.”

Dr. David Hough, dean of the College of Education at Missouri State University, is an expert in K-12 education and says research clearly documents positive outcomes for children when fathers who are good role models are a part of the family unit.

“In the absence of a father in the home, a male role model in school and/or the community has a positive impact on children, as well. Both male and female children benefit, but research findings point to male children benefiting more than female children.”

Hough says an adult male’s influence can be positive when the role model demonstrates positive character traits. Children tend to mimic or “act out” the behaviors they see. In schools, male children may benefit from male teachers by observing appropriate behaviors, most notably associated with how to handle anger, respect for others, and rule following.