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Is the Answer to the 'Boy Troubles' Recruiting Male Teachers?

On the surface, that's a logical response, and this column by Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post lays out the argument for recruiting more men for the classroom. The decline in educational aspirations among boys seen over the last two decades -- responsible for the fact that nearly 58 percent of bachelor's degrees and 62 percent of associate's degrees now go to women -- coincides with the decline in the number of males teaching.

From the column:

Men Teach, a non-profit organization that encourages men to enter teaching, reports that in 2008, 18.8% of all elementary and middle school teachers were men.

At the high school level during the same year, men comprised 44% of the work force.

Why are there so few men in teaching? Men Teach cites low pay and lack of prestige, as well as a perception in our culture that teaching is for women. As a result, there is no organized effort across the country to recruit men into the teaching profession.

A study in 2008 by the National Education Association showed that the number of male teachers hit a record 40-year low. Males comprised 24.5 percent of public schoolteachers.

High schools still have a respectable number of male teachers and elementary schools never had many male teachers, which leaves middle schools as the place where males are becoming a rare commodity. Given that middle school is the place where the gender gaps widen, that pretty much wraps up the investigation, right? Hire more male middle school male teachers, close the gender gaps.

Except I'm not convinced. In my travels researching my book, Why Boys Fail, the schools I found that educate boys as well as girls didn't rely on a strategy of hiring more males. I profile a traditional elementary school in Delaware and a KIPP charter school in Washington DC that do terrific jobs educating poor, minority boys. Neither school paid much attention to the gender of the teachers. Rather, they had teaching staffs infused with a sports fanatic-like devotion to ensuring no child was just passed along without learning what needed to be learned.

My overarching theory behind the boy troubles: when schools ramped up early literacy instruction to meet school reform demands educators forgot that boys have a harder time absorbing those skills at eary ages. Many teachers just pass them along, assuring parents: Don't worry, boys always catch up. Problem is, that's not always happening.

My travels suggest that rethinking how to teach boys literacy skills in the very early grades would be a far more effective remedy than vacuuming up more male teachers.


That said, however, while male teachers may not have a huge academic impact I think they can make a character-building difference in these kinds of urban schools. The most impressive school I found in my travels, Excellence Boys Charter School in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of New York, appears to be succeeding on both fronts -- character development and academics.

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