After nearly a decade as an elementary school teacher, Steven Cook is a
natural. Off-key renditions of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” to
start the day? No problem. Reading circles and mystery meat-fueled
lunch breaks? Piece of cake.
His 20 first-graders at West Boulevard Elementary School know that Mr.
Cook is something special. He’s also a rarity — the only male classroom
teacher in a building otherwise dominated by female authority figures.
Researchers have linked the shortage of male elementary school teachers
— only 9 percent nationally, according to the National Education
Association — to several detrimental effects, from lower test scores
among young boys to the absence of male role models in areas other than
sports and entertainment.
The recurring problem has prompted University of Missouri-Columbia
education professor Roy Fox to create Men for Excellence in Elementary
Teaching, a program he hopes will combine financial incentives with a
mentoring network to steer more beginning male teachers to the younger
“I would be sitting at graduation ceremonies and our elementary school
teachers would walk by receiving diplomas, one at a time, and I would
say, ‘where are the men?”‘ said Fox, chairman of the College of
Education’s Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum.
“A lot of people recognize it as a problem,” he added. “But there’s almost complete inertia about it.”
The problem is self-perpetuating, said Fox. When boys see few male
teachers, they’re less likely to consider teaching as a career. In
short order, reading, writing and other artistic pursuits lose ground
to popular images of men at work and play, he said.
“Instead of seeing men read and write, we see Bruce Willis blowing up a car,” said Fox.
Low pay and prestige and a perception that the work is “unmanly”
contribute to the shortage of male elementary teachers, he said.
The recruitment program will begin with modest goals by targeting
members of the university’s Teaching Fellows Program, an accelerated
master’s degree curriculum for students already certified as teachers
but who have yet to hold a full-time teaching job.
Fox hopes to attract just a handful of participants at first, and
acknowledges that outreach efforts should begin much sooner, ideally at
community colleges or even in high school.
“We’re starting at the opposite end because we have the fellows’ program,” he said.
With just 36 men among the more than 400 elementary teachers on
payroll, the percentage of male elementary teachers in Columbia mirrors
the national average.
Jack Jensen, the Columbia school district’s assistant superintendent of
elementary education, spent nine years as an elementary teacher before
moving into administration. He said the College of Education’s effort
is sorely needed.
“It’s important for our teaching ranks to reflect our community,” he said.
— Associated Press
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com