“Hi, my name is Melissa, and my son has expressed how excited he is to have a ‘male’ teacher this year, which in turn has made me excited for him. She went on to write that I was her fifth-grade student’s first male teacher, adding, ‘You are all this boy is talking about at home.’
It’s been six years, and this double-sided handwritten letter remains folded in my desk drawer. I read it often at the start of the school year to remind myself of my purpose and how my role influences others.
Over the years, my students, regardless of their gender, have shared similar feelings with me. Research has also shown social benefits for elementary school students who experience a male teacher. But if kids – and by extension their parents – are so excited to meet male elementary school teachers, why don’t we see them more?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017-2018, only 11% of teachers in public primary schools identified as men. Last May, I completed my first semester as an assistant professor in the Department of Childhood Education at City College New York, where out of 19 students who were studying to teach grades 1 through 6, only two were men. This semester I have one in 15 students.
As a student in the same program in 2010, I was often the only man in the class. I enrolled in a primary education program after a teacher friend inspired me with her words: “There aren’t enough of you in education, especially in primary schools. We need people like you! ”
I often wonder why there aren’t more men in primary education. Then I think about the fact that men my age rarely had male teachers growing up – and I understand the importance of role models and the impact of having little or no role.
I have had boys who told me that they wanted to be a teacher when they were older and that they “also wore a costume”, this is how they described my usual outfit of a shirt and dress. ‘a tie. I will never forget the moment a student was so excited to show me their shiny new black shoes for graduation. “They look like the ones you wear! In addition, additional male teachers can model for boys, especially boys without fathers or with absentees, a healthy form of masculinity.
I have also seen male teachers bond with boys in ways that help them improve academically. During my second year as a teacher, a colleague warned me about a student I will call Nelson, and how his behavior can negatively impact the whole class. When I focused on getting to know Nelson, I discovered that this boy wanted to read at grade level, but was many years behind.
Over time, I formed a relationship with Nelson and remained committed to advancing his literacy skills. As he progressed, his behavior problems eased. I attribute this change, in large part, to our shared experiences. I was once that boy who was seen as a behavior problem when in reality I acted because I was bored and didn’t see myself reflected in the classroom texts.
Male students receive more extracurricular suspensions and expulsions than their female counterparts. And for black students, suspensions and expulsions are also disproportionate. So when I meet boys with behavioral issues in classrooms, I ask myself, “If I were these kids, what would I want from a teacher to make learning fun?” Then I aim to provide educational experiences in which they can be seen reflected in the materials we use. All the while, I treat these boys with respect and dignity.
If there were more male teachers with similar experiences to the boys they work with – and if boys were assertive, welcomed and valued in their classrooms – how bad the suspension and expulsion rates would be – are they different? Such a change could lead to less labeling, meaning boys don’t need to carry negative associations that influence their behaviors (and the way others treat them) in middle and high school.
Recruiting more male elementary teachers will be a challenge, of course, especially in the aftermath of COVID and amid the current challenges with school staffing.
But it is necessary if we are to change the narrative that primary school education is for women only and eliminate the social stigma that men cannot teach young children – or sit on a carpet in front of them. reading aloud or singing.
We also need to widely communicate the importance of male teachers in elementary schools. We can do this through national advertising campaigns and on social media. We can invite male elementary school teachers to talk to high school students, and we can highlight the role of male teachers in the media.
Additionally, we can create programs to recruit and support male high school students who wish to teach in primary school. Prospective teachers can serve as peer mentors and tutors to young students in their school district.
And we can work with existing organizations that aim to develop leadership, scholarship, citizenship and character in boys of color. There are also programs, such as NYC Men Teach, dedicated to inspiring more men of color to become K-12 teachers.
Next year in New York City District 7, I will be running an aspiring teacher institute for young men of color who are currently paraprofessionals, school assistants, parent coordinators, or substitute teachers at New York. The aim of the program is to develop a pipeline of male teachers of color. My goal will be to train new primary school teachers among them.
Dr Jason Baez is an educator in New York.