The other minority: Male teachers make an impression

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Sunday, October 26, 2008
— Third-grader Jacob Wildes remembers his first day of school this year, when he got his first look at his teacher.

“I was scared because he is so big,” the Van Buren School student recalled.

Jacob’s teacher is James Caley, who stands a burly and bearded 6 feet 4 inches tall.

But Jacob said as soon as he met Mr. Caley, he wasn’t scared anymore.

Girls as well as boys interviewed recently agreed: Caley is nice. And fun.

“He plays kickball with us,” said Brittney Burdick.

Caley was gentle, calm and spent a lot of time engaging his students in conversation about reading, spelling and word meanings during a recent visit by a Janesville Gazette reporter and photographer.

Caley taught fifth-graders for the first 13 years of his career. He said he loves the switch to third grade.

Caley is one of only four male teachers in his school. Of the district’s 354 elementary teachers, only 37 are men.

That might come as no surprise. Men have been the minority among teachers in this country since the 19th century.

But this is the 21st century, when men and women aren’t railroaded into traditional roles. Things should be changing, right?

On the contrary, the number of men teaching school is at a 40-year low, according to the National Education Association.

‘Becoming feminized’

At UW-Whitewater, which bestows more undergraduate teaching degrees than any school in Wisconsin, 73 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees in teaching in the past five years were women.

“Little by little, the profession is becoming feminized,” said Jeffrey Barnett, dean of the college of education at UW-W.

While concern continues that women are underrepresented in math- and science-related professions, women overall now are the majority of students at colleges nationwide.

Once, men dominated the teaching ranks in UW-W’s college of education, but that has shifted dramatically to an abundance of women, said Anthony Truog, chairman of the educational foundations department.

One reason for fewer men in college is that more boys are having trouble in school. Concerns have been raised nationwide about greater numbers of boys who don’t achieve up to their academic potential and are overrepresented in school discipline and crime statistics.

One theory has it that boys lack roles models to show them the value of getting a good education.

The call for more men in education has focused mostly on racial and ethnic minorities, but even white men are in short supply.

Follow the money

One roadblock to men choosing teaching might be pay.

Since about 1980, studies show, female teachers have earned less than women in other fields with similar education. But the same has been true even longer for men. In all of modern history, men with similar college degrees could earn more by staying out of teaching.

Truog said he’d think twice if he were a young man considering a teaching career these days, in part because of the larger debts that modern college students accumulate to pay for school.

“Education, by and large, is a lower-paying profession, and so it takes longer to pay off the debt,” Truog said.

Janesville male teachers interviewed said it’s not about the money.

“Teaching is not where the money is at, but you have to enjoy what you’re doing, and I know I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else,” Caley said.

David Pawloski, a special-education teacher in his second year of teaching at Wilson School, said he took a huge pay cut when he left a job in corporate marketing to go back to school and teach.

Pawloski said friends who were teachers encouraged him: “They said, ‘You know what, Dave? It’s low pay, but it’s rewarding.’ You’re helping kids, I mean directly, helping them every day, and that’s what I wanted to do.”

Making an impression

Eric Wahl, who has been teaching at Harrison School for four years, said teaching for him is a vocation.

“What I do with teaching kind of gives me a lot back,” Wahl said.

It would be nice to have more male teachers, but “the pay is lacking for some men, and some men feel as if it’s not a macho, manly position,” Pawloski said.

UW-W’s Barnett believes many men don’t feel comfortable dealing with small children’s needs, and they might feel threatened by prejudice against men in teaching, especially in the lower grades.

“The men are scared I think, to be honest,” Barnett said. “The men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment of children, that kind of thing.”

Wahl said those reasons didn’t come up as he decided to teach. His big influences were relatives who are teachers, who told him what a rewarding career it can be.

“The kind of impression I make on kids, as far as being a role model or someone they can look up to is … a huge part of my job,” Wahl said. “The importance of that can’t be overstated.”

Finding balance

So should schools hire more men?

“I think we need positive male role models just as we need positive female role models,” said Kori Stetterson, Caley’s principal at Van Buren. “I think it helps to bring a balance to your staff, too.”

Balance is important not only with gender, but with race and ethnicity, Stetterson added.

The men interviewed for this story noted they work with plenty of talented female teachers.

But having men around—just like any other kind of diversity—can be helpful.

“The guys, they connect in a way that some women don’t, and I’m not being biased here. It’s just a different relationship,” Pawloski said.

The difference is especially important at Wilson School, with the largest number of low-income families in the district and a lot of boys without fathers at home who are looking to make a connection with a man, Pawloski added.

It wouldn’t hurt to have a greater proportion of men in the teaching ranks, if more well-qualified men could be found, Wahl said, adding:

“But I think the biggest thing for the kids is having good teachers,” male or female.

Last updated: 10:38 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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