Elementary Teachers

Menstuff® has compiled the following on Men as Elementary Teachers.

Perceptions and Beliefs Regarding Men in Elementary and Early Childhood Education

Any discussion regarding gender and teaching must be prefaced by a short discussion of what many writers refer to as the "feminization of American education. According to Johnson (1989),

"This feminization of the teaching force, particularly at the elementary level, was one of the most profound transformations ever to affect American Education. The reasons for this...women were willing to work for less pay then men because they had fewer employment opportunities, women were said to be more nurturant than men, and thus were viewed as especially suitable for the elementary grades: and, less explicitly, females would be docile, dutiful, obedient workers in the increasingly bureaucratic school systems presided over by male administrators"

Horace Mann, 19th century educator, observed that, "Teaching has long been woman's work...women are better suited than men to "begin the first work in the Temple of Education'" (Hulsebosch, 1989), and, according to Bradley (1989), "the teaching of children was seen as a natural part of motherhood."

Many educators, as well as the public, now share these beliefs. Most people, when asked to recall their early school experiences, could probably count the number of male teachers in that experience on the fingers of one hand. The early part of our country's history, however, describes teaching as a male-dominated profession. In 1828 there was no such thing as a woman teacher. Paraphrasing one 19th century school official, "It wasn't a woman's job and more than milkin' a cow was a man's job." (Clifford, 1989) Teachers as a group in Colonial America were overwhelmingly white and male, largely middle-class, young, and often (though not always) well-educated (Rury, 1989). These young men often viewed teaching as a stepping stone to other professions, a way of getting one's self established. School terms at that time were relatively short, established around harvesting and planting times in many instances, and men took these positions, often combining them with other professions, despite the low wages. (Carter, 1989) As school terms were lengthened, however, and credentialling requirements were established, opportunities to combine teaching with other pursuits were reduced. (Carter, 1989)

Horace Mann and other educational leaders recognized that the drive for Universal Schooling would necessitate bringing a vast number of new teachers into the workforce. The hiring of more women seemed to be the ideal solution. In addition, the hiring of women provided an additional bonus, the possibility of longer school terms for the same investment in training. (Clifford, 1989).

The nation's wars also had a direct effect on both sex's roles in education. Each war took men into the military, depriving schools and colleges of male students and teachers. By 1870 nearly two-thirds of all teachers were female, by 1900 almost three-quarters. World War I saw over 50, 000 men leave the teaching profession leave and never return, and by 1920 an all-time high of eighty-six percent of teachers were female (Clifford, 1989) By the 1920's, according to Carter, "teaching was the second most important occupation among native-born white women of native parentage." (Carter, 1989) Add the contributing factors that urban school districts were simply unable to attract and retain men in a job that paid poorly compared to other jobs available to men (Rury, 1989), and the fact that the wages offered to women were even lower than those paid to men (Carter, 1989) and it is no surprise that "by the mid-1930s teaching had become firmly identified in the popular consciousness as 'women's work'" (Rury, 1989)

Gender and Stereotypes

Teacher gender has been a topic of discussion for most of the past two centuries (Clifford, 1989). According to Rury (1989), "teaching, particularly at the elementary level, has become sex-typed as women's work." "Gender plays a decisive role in how the teacher define their profession in at least two ways: first, in its influence upon their choice to become teachers, and second, in its influence in establishing the criteria that define a professional teacher." (Hulsebosch, 1992)

Measor and Sikes (1992) observe that "most societies prescribe different activities and characteristics for males and females, which may come to be seen as 'natural" by the people involved." Social and cultural patterns, and the social characteristics of being a man or a woman all contribute to the definition and role defined by society. Gender stereotypes are cultural constructions rooted more or less firmly in perceived reality. (Clifford, 1989)

"The expectation is that women will be found working in 'traditional', 'feminine" areas. Thus it is seen as 'natural' for women to work with young children and to adopt a caring mother/teacher role. Conversely, male teachers in ... schools are often viewed with suspicion and their sexual orientation may well be called into question."

Given these perceptions, it seems natural to ask, why would men choose to go into teaching, particularly at the elementary or early childhood level? What is characteristic of men who do make this career choice?

Robinson (1988) reports that the male preschool teachers he studies were not very different than their female colleagues in the results of a paper-and-pencil personality profile, but were quite different than men in other fields, in this case, engineering. The male preschool teachers were supposedly providing a more masculine experience for the children in their care, but this was apparently not the case. Robinson's teachers also tended to be less concerned with "getting ahead. Their jobs were chosen for altruistic reasons, rather than money, prestige or power.

According to Clifford (1989), men will, on average, teach more older than younger students, teach more boys than girls, and teach the "harder" subjects. Most men typically decide to enter teaching later then women. Men also tend to concentrate post-graduate study on subjects required for certification as administrators. (Lortie, 1975) Mason (1961) found that 71% of the men he studied intended to leave the classroom eventually. His figures cite 51% of those men choosing to go into higher positions in education, and 20% choosing to go outside of the education field. Pay, salary, and standard of living were all factors that would lead to such a decision, and married men were more likely to express such economic concerns. Robinson (1988) found that two years after his study 70% of the male preschool teachers had left the profession, as opposed to 35% of the women and 30% of the engineers. "When asked what would have kept them in child care, one-half of the men responded 'more money'".

"Statistically, the typical American teacher is White, a politically inactive member of the Democratic party, in her early 40's, married, and the mother of two children." (Laird, 1988) A review of literature suggests that he belief that more men need to enter the teaching profession is not strongly supported by any research. Brophy (1985) suggests that male and female teachers are much more similar than different both in their general approaches to instruction and in their interactions with male and female students. Brophy states that "sex differences in student's classroom experiences are not due to the sex of their teachers and are unlikely to be changed significantly by infusing more males into elementary reading and language arts courses."

Why then, should there be a continuing and pervasive concern about the lack of men in the elementary and early childhood classrooms? Perhaps it is best explained by Jarolimek and Foster (1976) when they state that

"A broader range of role models will need to be presented to young children as a part of their formal education than has been the case in the past. Boys and girls should encounter models of men and women in a variety of occupations...they must also learn that there is nothing wrong with a mans ...being engaged in any...occupations that have traditionally been associated with women. The opportunity for choice [in conducting their lives] will not exist if children are taught that all men and women must conform to the sex-role stereotypes that have prevailed through the centuries."

The Study

This researcher, having been a "rare bird" myself in 1973 when he chose to seek a position in elementary school teaching, has always had an interest in opinions society holds for and about men who choose elementary or early childhood education as their career. What is it about the job that would attract a man to a career that is traditionally considered "woman's work"? Three questions regarding this career choice presented themselves.

1. What are commonly held opinions regarding the gender of prospective teachers in elementary and early childhood education?

2. What are commonly held perceptions regarding the roles of men and women in elementary and early childhood education?

3. What factors are important in choosing to pursue a career in elementary or early childhood education?

Following is a review of the literature and a description and summary of the responses to statements and questions designed to find answers to these questions.

One hundred and fifty surveys were distributed to students enrolled in upper-division education classes in the College of Education's Department of Education of a large Northwestern university. Seventy-four of these surveys were completed and returned giving a forty-nine percent return rate. The survey itself was prepared on a Macintosh Quadra 610 personal computer using MacSurvey software, and results were analyzed using the same program.

The Participants

Surveys were distributed to students enrolled in upper-division classes in the College of Education. Of the individuals who voluntarily chose to participate in the survey, approximately 25% were male. Elementary majors comprised 54% of the respondents, 73% were seniors or graduate students, and approximately 66% were 26 years of age or older. For approximately 45% of the students, education was not their first choice as a career. The majority decided to enter education after finishing high school (age 19 or older), and 93% were sure they would find satisfaction with a career in education. Eighty nine percent plan to stay in education upon graduation.

A Brief Summary of the Answers

1. What are commonly held opinions regarding the gender of prospective teachers in elementary and early childhood education?

Who is most effective in an elementary classroom? According to the research, men have traditionally been assigned to positions in intermediate classrooms with greater frequency than to positions in primary classrooms. Thirty-three percent of the men felt that men were more effective, only fourteen percent of the women agreed. The majority of men and women felt that gender did not make a difference.

Who is most desirable in a primary/early childhood classroom?

Sixty-six percent of the men said women were more desirable. The majority of women said that gender did not make a difference.

Who is most desirable in an intermediate classroom?

Nearly seventy-nine percent of the women said it made no difference., while fifty percent of the men felt men were more desirable.

Most male teachers will choose to go into administration .

Seventy-one percent of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with this statement.

Teachers are as highly regarded as members of other professions.

Eighty-one percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.

Male elementary/early childhood teachers are highly regarded by males in other professions.

Ninety percent of the respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.

Female teachers are given preference in hiring for elementary/early childhood positions. Almost fifty-seven percent of the women thought they were. (agreed/strongly agreed) Nearly seventy-seven percent of the men disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Education is a better career choice for a woman than for a man.

Thirty-three percent of the men agreed that it was, as opposed to only fourteen percent of the women.

2. What are commonly held perceptions regarding the roles of men and women in elementary and early childhood education?

Traditional beliefs concerning gender roles in the schools seem to be upheld by this survey. What writers refer to as "women's work" and "men's work" seem to be clearly defined in the responses of the students taking this survey. A majority of both sexes believe that the teacher's gender is a consideration in the placement of some children.

Women are still viewed as the caregivers. Seventy-two percent of the respondents that dispensing tender, loving care is a task most likely assigned to women, while men were most likely the ones who dispensed discipline, helped with coaching, breaking up fights, moving and repairing equipment. Sex education for boys is most likely assigned to male teachers, while sex education for girls is most likely assigned to female teachers.

3. What factors are important in choosing to pursue a career in elementary or early childhood education?

Elementary, early childhood and secondary education students were asked to list some of the reasons they believed people chose to go into the field of education. The top sixteen answers were then placed in the survey and respondents were asked if the reason provided was very important, important, or not important in their own choice of education as a career.

The top four factors affecting the choice of these students were as follows.

1. I wanted to help children succeed.

2. I wanted to make a difference.

3. Teaching seemed like it would provide a satisfying career.

4. I love kids and enjoy working with children.

Seventy-three percent of the female respondents indicated that the challenge of teaching was very important in their choice, as opposed to twenty-eight percent of the men. Nearly ninety-two percent said that the popularly held belief that teaching seemed like an easy job was NOT important, and sixty-three percent of the respondent stated that the having a friend or family member in teaching was NOT important.

Other factors follow, and are ordered by the percent claiming this was very important.

5. I felt I would enjoy the opportunity to continue my lifelong learning.

6. I enjoy the challenge of teaching.

7. Teaching will allow me opportunities to be creative.

8. A career in teaching would still allow time to be with (raise) my family.

9. I was inspired by good teachers I had when I was in school.

10. I would have the summers off.

11. I would have job security with a career in teaching.

12. Job skills learned in teaching can be easily transferred to other professions.

13. Friends or family members are teachers.

14. A teaching job would provide good benefits.

15. It's a good way to supplement my family's income.

16. Teaching seemed like an easy job.


Results of this survey indicate that perceptions and attitudes regarding men in elementary and early childhood educaton are consistent with the beliefs and perceptions found in previous studies. Women are still regarded as the nurturing caregivers resident in elementary and early childhood classrooms, while men are the disciplinarians, more often than not using teaching as a stepping stone to an administrative position.

This survey needs to be replicated with a larger number of participants, or at a least a higher rate of return. It would also be of interest to correlate results of this study with the results of a Meyers-Briggs type personality indicator to see if there are significant differences between men choosing elementary and early childhood education as a career and men choosing to go into other fields.

As stated previously, the literature indicateds that the simple presence of a male teacher in an elementary or early childhood classroom does not guarantee experiences any different from those provided by a female teacher, and this researcher agrees. However, the belief persists, even though there is no research to support it, that more men are needed in elementary and early childhood classrooms. The value provided by the presence of role models who defy gender stereotypes and perceptions may be immeasurable, and continued research in this area may give clues to who these men are and how they can be attracted in greater numbers to elementar y and early childhood classrooms.


Bradley, H. (1989). Men's Work, Women's Work. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Brophy, J. (1985). Interactions of Male and Female Students with Male and Female Teachers. In L.C. Wilkinson & C.B. Marrett, (eds.), Gender Influences in Classroom Interaction. Orlando: Academic Press.

Bucholz, H.E. (1971), Fads and Fallacies in Present Day Education. New York: Books for Libraries Press.

Carter, S.B. (1989). Incentives and Rewards for Teaching. In D.Warren (ed.), American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work. New York: Macmillan.

Clifford, J.C. (1989). Man/Woman/Teacher: Gender, Family and Career in American Educational History. In D.Warren (ed.), American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work. New York: Macmillan.

Darling-Hammond, L. (1990). Teachers and Teaching: Signs of a Changing Profession. In W.R. Houston(ed.) , Handbook of Research on Teacher Education. New York: Macmillan.

Herbst, J. (1989), And Sadly Teach. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Hulsebosch, P.L. (1992). Significant Others: Teacher's Perspectives on Relationships with Parents. In W.H. Schubert & W.C. Ayers (eds.) , Teacher Lore: Learning from our Own Experience. New York: Longman.

Jarolimek, J & Foster, C.F. (1976). Teaching and Learning in the Elementary School. New York: Macmillan.

Johnson, W.R. (1989). Teachers and Teacher Training in the Twentieth Century. In D.Warren (ed.), American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work. New York: Macmillan.

Laird, S. (1988). Reforming "Woman's True Profession": A Case for "Feminist Pedagogy" . Harvard Educational Review, 58 (4).

Lortie, D.C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mason, W.S. (1961). The Beginning Teacher. Washington, DC: US Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Mattingly, P.H. (1975). The Classless Profession. New York: University Press.

Measor, L. & Sikes, P.J. (1992), Gender and Schools. New York: Cassell.

Robinson, B.E. (1988). Men in child Care: A Vanishing Breed. Education Digest pp. (46-48).

Rury, J.L. (1989). Who Became Teachers. In D. Warren (ed.), American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work. New York: Macmillan.

Schubert, W.H. & Ayers, W.C. (eds.). (1992). Teacher Lore: Learning from our Own Experience. New York, NY: Longman.

Sedlak, M.W. (1989). Let Us Go and Buy a School Master. In D.Warren (ed.). American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work. New York: Macmillan.

Sugg, R.S. (1978). Motherteacher. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Wilkinson, L.C. & Marrett, C.B. (1985). Gender Influences in Classroom Interaction. Orlando: Academic Press Incorporated.

Williams, C. (ed.). (1993). Doing "Women's Work": Men in Nontraditional Occupations. Newberry Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Source: Allan F. Cook, Ed.D., University of Illinois at Springfield, www.uis.edu/~cook/scholarly/percept.htm  

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