Throughout the last school year I have been working in elementary schools, in buildings that hold students in kindergarten through grade six. This has been a shift for me from the last decade that I spent in a middle school. Besides the obvious difference of the children’s ages, the biggest difference I have seen is the percentage of male teachers to female teachers. This post may not necessarily be focused on gender equity, but will touch on the concepts of gender bias. When speaking with my peers about these observations, it was obvious that many people feel more comfortable with women teaching younger students. Women are perceived as more nurturing than men, which causes the bias. Some of my collegues that I spoke with, themselves female primary school teachers, couldn’t readily explain why they feel it is strange when a man teaches younger children, they just seem uncomfortable with it. After speaking with colleagues about the lack of men in primary schools, I decided to spend some time looking for some data to back up my observations. According the United Stated Bureau of Labor Statistics men make up only 2.2% of preschool and kindergarten teachers and only 19% of elementary and middle school teachers. The numbers increase to 43% of male teachers in American high schools.
The data isn’t much different for European schools. The graph below shows a large number of European countries that have data similar that in the United States, with female teachers making up anywhere from 70% to nearly 100% of primary teachers.
So what does this mean? Do men and women have to have equal representation in all occupations? I’m not sure. All I can speak to is the large amount of boys that I currently teach that are without positive role models in their lives. I am now teaching in a school where the students are all living in poverty. A large number of the households are single mothers with multiple children. Many of the children have fathers that are incarcerated. A male primary school teacher could provide the stable and positive male role model that these children need. In a study of over 20,000 middle-school students, boys claimed to perform better with a male teacher, and female students with a female teacher. (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2012-08-13/male-teachers-education-reform/57039176/1)
I can say that is strange taking the stand that men need more support in a conversation about gender equity, when it is generally the opposite. But the research supports the idea that more men in primary schools will benefit all students.