Schools seeking men at the head of class

The number of male teachers is at a 40-year low nationwide, with men making up fewer than 25 percent of the national teaching force, according to the National Education Association. Ashland schools have hovered around 34 percent male teachers for the past several years according to the district, higher than national rates but still nowhere close to half, especially in the elementary schools.

"The main problem is that kids do not have a good male role model in their lives to emulate in many instances," said Reg Weaver, president of the NEA. "It's extremely important for them to have, because many kids come to school without having a male in the home."

Weaver attributes the low numbers to the outdated notion that teaching is a female profession and wages that make it difficult to support a family, particularly at the elementary level.

Some of Ashland's teaching minority weighed in on why they went into the field, the challenges of staying and how to attract more men.

"I was probably influenced by my dad who was a teacher, and I guess it rubbed off on me," said Bob Julian Jr., who teaches seventh and eighth grade social studies. "It's a job where you can be a positive influence on a lot of people's lives."

Tim Cate, a high school history and English teacher, went into teaching after deciding he could do a better job than his mostly-male teachers at his private high school.

"I was looking for something to do that would get me out of the woods," said middle school science teacher Eric Sandrock, who worked for the Oregon Department of Forestry before deciding teaching might be a better fit. "I've always been kind of an entertainer, and teaching gave me that outlet."

Many of Ashland's men had parents who were teachers or male teachers who made an impact at an early age. For men without those influences, several factors could scare them away, teachers said.

Why so few?

"I think it's the breadwinner syndrome," Sandrock said. "It's incredibly difficult to be a teacher and support a family. I know double-income teachers who have a tough time making ends meet in Ashland."

Bellview Elementary fourth and fifth grade teacher Max Schmeling rents a house from his parents, which allows his wife to stay at home.

"The pay in teaching isn't as bad as people might say, especially after you've been in it a while. In the beginning it can be a challenge to raise a family on a beginning teacher's salary," he said. "I don't think you could do it as a beginning family in Ashland."

But pay isn't the only thing that could be holding men back.

"I don't think it's a money thing," Julian said. "For the amount of schooling you have to go through, teaching probably doesn't pay as much as other professions, but there are a lot of opportunities in teaching."

Instead, he said the increased expectations placed on teachers outweigh things like particular subjects or coaching that may initially attract men to the profession.

"There's a lot more to it than 'I've got to teach a unit on the constitution,'" he said. "In the past, I think you were more likely to be able to do that. Now there are a lot of outside social issues you have to deal with. We're social workers as well as teachers."

The stereotype that men aren't nurturing enough to teach, especially at the elementary level where 9 percent of teachers nationally and 22 percent in Ashland are men, may also keep potential male teachers at bay.

"Maybe guys feel like they don't have that nurturing quality," said Helman Elementary fifth grade teacher Joe Dunbrasky, noting that many male teachers eventually leave teaching for administrative roles. Dunbrasky defies the stereotype, starting each day in the classroom with the "nurturing circle" where kids can talk about the upcoming day.

"I love to interact with children," he said. "They remind me of what's important in life. A lot of people say I'm a big kid at heart."

And teachers are quick to point out that nurturing children typically requires male qualities too.

"Anybody who thinks teaching isn't a masculine job doesn't know what they're talking about," Sandrock said. "It takes an awful lot of inner strength and bravery to do this for a long period of time."

What can change?

The question still remains how to recruit more men to teach.

"It's not a school's job to do that," said Weaver of the NEA. "I think it's all of our responsibilities to see what can be done. The main ingredient in terms of getting more men into the profession would be enhanced status and enhanced pay and respect."

Teachers suggested increased pay, amnesty for school loans and getting prospective teachers in the classroom earlier so they can see if the job is right for them. But most said the men should not be hired simply because they are men.

"You really have to love kids. If you don't love kids, you're not going to last long in the teaching field," AHS teacher Tim Cate said. "If you give them the love, whether you're a male or a female, they're going to respond to it."

After checking the numbers of his staff, with 8 male and 15 female teachers, middle school principal Dale Rooklyn said while having a diverse teaching staff is a priority and good for students, an exact balance in gender is not necessary.

"I don't think gender makes the teacher," he said. "Good teachers are good teachers."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or . To post a comment on this story, go to .

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