Reacquainting Myself with the Gender Gap in Education

After eight years as a K-12 teacher, I’ve recently re-entered the classroom as a student while I work toward my PhD in Teaching and Teacher Education. It’s been a truly amazing experience over the past couple of months to read and engage with exceptional classmates and professors around topics such as teacher preparation and equity. Over the past few months, I’ve been re-educated in ways that I wasn’t expecting, beyond the issues of scholarship, APA format, adjusting to life as a graduate student, or the proper way to say research (is it ree-search or ruh-surch?).

I had forgotten some of the realities about the field of education and have had a few “oh yeah” moments within the first few months. Perhaps my amnesia is a side effect of teaching at my last school, an innovative and high performing charter school on Chicago’s South Side, which may be causing me to bury some of the issues of schooling deep in my subconscious. We had an administrative team who listened and was responsive to student and teacher needs. We had a staff that was passionate about teaching and constantly collaborated to improve outcomes for our kids. Life was good.

Many schools, especially in urban contexts, aren’t so lucky. I had forgotten that the grass on the “other side” isn’t always so green.

But, since starting my doctoral program, there have been a few times that I’ve had to confront this amnesia and in some cases, problems that I’ve forgotten about have even made me feel out of place. After an orientation session, someone asked me what it felt like to be the only male in the program. I quickly scanned the room and was dumbstruck. How had I not noticed? How had I forgotten about how gendered the teaching profession is?

Issues of gender have come up again and again since the start of the semester. At a kick-off barbeque for a group within the School of Education, I brought my wife (who is not a student or teacher) and we circulated the party meeting people. Repeatedly, after a quick exchange of names, people would face my wife to ask her questions about her background in education, what she’ll be working on for her assistantship, or what she’ll be studying. In another instance, I was gently reminded in a group photo that only “students in the program” should be in the picture. A few weeks later, a faculty member incorrectly assumed that I could not be the student and proceeded to ask my wife about where we live, how she gets to campus each day, and attempting to strike up small talk about how the parking near campus is so terrible.

The reminders seemed to be everywhere. But this wasn’t new; I had been here before.

My wife, who was an undergraduate education major once-upon-a-time, has told me that being one of the only males in our education courses “boosted my stock,” since, you know, the options were so limited. Gee, thanks honey…

There were a significant number of male teachers at my last school and I blindly presumed that gender imbalance wasn’t as much of an issue anymore in the field. I had forgotten that more than 75% of teachers in the U.S. are female, with the rate being even higher at the elementary level (Rich, 2014).

If our schools are supposed to give students practice for democracy by interacting with a diverse group of people, then how are we leaving out a group that represents approximately half of our planet? Leaving out different voices, perspectives, races, and genders is simply selling our students short on opportunities to develop relationships, learn from, and have role models of all stripes.

To get to a solution, we need to first ask the question, why does this rarely discussed gender gap even exist? Many have speculated that factors that persistently keep men away from teaching are the low status and low pay, as well as a perception that teaching is women’s work (Rich 2014). Studies have shown that beyond these factors, men often cite beliefs about the profession “being boring or stressful, or [that] other careers being more attractive” as reasons why they stay away from teaching, especially at the elementary level (Drudy et al., 2005, p. 105).

Perhaps a more purposeful commitment to the recruitment of men into teacher preparation programs would help address the gender gap. Alternative certification routes have often been cited as ways to increase diversity in the teaching profession, but, aside from some specific programs, most still have “no considerable gender difference…[from] traditional preparation” programs (Grossman and Loeb, 2008, p. 87). Although recruitment might seem like a tempting course of action, it may not be as fruitful as one would hope. Even if men were more actively sought after to enter teaching, whether through traditional or alternative routes, it would still only be addressing a symptom of a greater problem involving status.

While I may have forgotten about the gender gap during my last teaching stint, I’ve never once had a bout of amnesia regarding the way that the profession is looked down upon in our society. Ultimately, we need to change the public perception of teaching; if it continues to be viewed as low-status, it will continue to be difficult to attract any quality candidates, regardless of gender. Proposing other policies or programs to promote gender equity in the teaching force, such as loan-forgiveness for male teachers or a creating a new Male Teachers Corp would not reach the bigger professional status issue which leads college students to choose other careers over teaching.

So maybe it’s a money issue. Financial incentives could be one way to raise the status of teaching and attract more quality candidates to the field. Whether this is through raising teacher pay or developing scholarships for future teachers, it is likely only a partial solution because money is only one factor considered when people choose a career.

Changing people’s overall mindsets about teaching is crucial to raising the profession’s status, which in turn, would help attract more students of all types to teaching. Simple actions, such as public recognition of teachers by state and local officials or displays of gratitude towards teachers by their communities would be an excellent first step. We as teachers can also do a better job of discussing the rewards of the profession more often instead of dwelling on the negatives that drive potential teachers away from the profession.

Gender roles and definitions are also playing a role here. Finding ways to address the belief that teaching is “women’s work” is crucial.  Giving K-12 students and undergraduates opportunities to get a taste of teaching by working with kids while they are forming ideas about future careers could go a long way to combat negative and gendered perceptions of teaching. Gentlemen, teaching is not “below you” or “women’s work;” we as teachers and teacher educators need to find ways to make this message clear.

Overall, we’ve got to change the dialogue around teaching if we want to address diversity or quality issues in any meaningful way…after all, we can’t be desperate for teachers and picky about who we get at the same time!

Resources

Drudy, S., Martin, M., O’Flynn, J., & Woods, M. (2005). Men and the classroom: gender imbalances in teaching. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.lib.umich.edu

Grossman, P. L., & Loeb, S. (2008). Alternative routes to teaching: mapping the new landscape of teacher education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Rich, M. (2014, Sep 07). Why don’t more men go into teaching? New York Times. Retrieved from http://proxy.lib.umich.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/docview/1560417019?accountid=14667

 

 

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