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University of Missouri-Columbia Launches Effort to Recruit Male Teachers

University of Missouri-Columbia Launches Effort to Recruit Male Teachers

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 teacher in a building 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 negative 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 Dr. Roy F. Fox to create Men for Excellence in Elementary Teaching, a program he hopes will combine financial incentives with a mentoring network to steer more male teachers to the younger grades.

“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?’” says Fox, chairman of the College of Education’s Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum.

“A lot of people recognize it as a problem,” he adds. “But there’s almost complete inertia about it.”

The problem is self-perpetuating, says 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 says.

“Instead of seeing men read and write, we see Bruce Willis blowing up a car,” says Fox.

Low pay and prestige and a perception that the profession is “unmanly” contribute to the shortage of male elementary school teachers, he says.

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 says.

With just 36 men among the more than 400 elementary teachers on the 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 says the college’s effort is sorely needed.

“It’s important for our teaching ranks to reflect our community,” he says.

Associated Press

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