Are You Man Enough to Teach?

01/12/2011 04:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In terms of men in education, we need more guys to man up rather than man down. Statistical realities have demonstrated for over a century the critical absence of men in the classroom with no signs of change. Numbers from a variety of sources, the National Education Association and the National Commission of Education Statistics, for example, show a proportion of men in K-12 hovering at around 25 percent. This proportion decreases dramatically with the age of the student, demonstrating a clear disdain or dismissal of nurturing younger children. Data from the United Nations via UNESCO also illustrates that an absence of male teachers is a global concern not unique to the United States.

As someone who is male and a former elementary teacher, and who has studied this issue extensively over several years, I'm constantly frustrated by the redundancy, ineffectiveness, and inanity of both the research literature and the more mainstream discussion of the topic. There are many notable local interventions to getting men more involved with the education of children, namely volunteer, mentoring, and reading programs. But I cannot think of one that has actually made a dent in the larger male recruitment problem that we face.

Before I continue, I need to make a couple of things very clear. First, I am not and will not make the case that the teaching profession will be better off or higher in status if more men choose to teach. Second, there is absolutely no evidence or support for the contention that male teachers will serve as role models for young persons in ways more effective than the women that already work very hard to reach students. This latter point has gained a lot of credibility in the larger debate on male teachers because it seems to make a lot of intuitive sense.

Out of the hundreds of articles and books I've read from all perspectives, there is no convincing case that a male in the classroom does anything better or differently. Additionally, of the dozens of male teachers I've talked to extensively, not one was interested in being a male role model. The just wanted to be good teachers. However, we do need talented young men to consider teaching precisely because the current 25 percent representation does not reflect the society in which we live, much the same as the overall lack of racial, class, or LGBTQ diversities in education. Schools need to better represent our larger social realities.

So, what do I mean about the need to "man up" when it comes to men and teaching? Given my aforementioned frustrations with the lack of change in teacher demographics, despite the occasional lip service devoted to the problem, I feel the need to take a more confrontational attitude towards the persistent refusal of many men to enter the teaching profession to perhaps motivate change. Little else has been working.

So, the research literature identifies four common reasons why many men do not teach: Low salary, low status, gender stereotypes, and contact with young children. Guys, it's time to get over it and man up. I'm sorry you have this caveman urge to be the breadwinner, but give it up. Find a job that makes you happy and don't be stupid about impressing us with your expensive gadgets or steak dinners. With that, man up and don't cave to the pressure to get a manly job. What's with all the business, law, engineering, or finance? Are you too scared, low self-esteem, or so ambivalent that you can't think of anything else to do? And about those stereotypes. We've got a bunch of weak men out there if they can't handle a little scrutiny. Yes, I get it: teaching, like nursing or social work, has that "feminine" connotation. Maybe people will joke with you about working with little kids, like I've experienced, but man up, tell them to their face that they're wrong. If they don't let up, split their upper lip. A lot of the joking and jabs come from the misconception that men who work with kids are sexual predators or gay, or both. This is a dangerous problem that stems from hate, homophobia, and ignorance. But what's been the response from many men? The demographics I noted earlier reveal that, rather than manning up and challenging homophobia or sexism through teaching or other progressive choices, men, and a lot of women, simply go along with the stereotypes taught to them by their parents and grandparents.

I know I'm probably guilty of oversimplifying the issue here. I am also likely of catering to stereotype by asking men to man up. This implies some kind of manhood to which men need to aspire. But maybe I need to exploit some of that mojo to get men to consider teaching as a worthwhile career, and to convince women that it's all right for their sons, brothers, and husbands to do so. So, guys, man up. Get over this juvenile need to become something you see in the media. Think for yourself and do what makes you happy. If that leads to teaching, fantastic. If it doesn't, that's fine, but refuse to allow magazines, commercials, or films to dictate your destiny. And if your family, friends, and partners truly love and support you, they'll encourage you to do what feels right, whatever that may be.