As retirement became reality, I wondered how to spend all my newly acquired free time. One idea was to start a crusade to recruit more men to the teaching profession. I looked back on my fourteen years of teaching as the happiest work years of my life and felt a need to share the experience.
I got involved in other things and put that idea aside. But, a MSN headline last week brought it to my attention once again: "Percentage of Male Teachers Hits 40-Year Low." According to this article, males make up 24.4 per cent of teachers nationally. Arkansas comes in last place at 17.5 per cent (2006 statistics).
Schools need male role models, especially in the lower grades. I have had high school students tell me, "You are the first man teacher I've had." With so many kids coming from single parent families headed by the mother, the need is obvious. Men create a different ambience in the classroom, an ambience that contrasts with the maternal ambience women often create.
Why don't more men teach? The article says, "...low status and pay, the perception that teaching is 'women's work,' and the fear of accusations of child abuse."
Let me rebut each of these. In the eyes of those who count (your students), you have status and that is part of the joy. And, yes there is always the possibility of being wrongly accused, but this will serve to help you remain cautious in your dealing with students. If you create an atmosphere of mutual respect with your students, this is not likely to happen. As to it being women’s work, at the turn of last century, there were many more men teachers than women. The work is gender neutral.
Now let's put the pay in perspective. The article says the average teacher's pay is $49,000 a year. The teacher gets paid for 190 days of work per year or $258 per day. An ad adjacent to the article says the average bachelor's degree is worth $52,000 a year. The average worker puts in 240 work days a year for $216 a day.
When I first came to Arkansas, I was amused by a Lewis Grizzard column in which he said, and I paraphrase, that every Southern good old boy knows there is only one reason to work: to have enough money to go fishing and hunting. As a teacher, you have both the money and the time. Your non-teaching counter part has a little more money, but you have a lot more time.
Here's my list of ten reasons to teach if you are a man:
1. You are needed and wanted. You can't say that about many jobs.
2. You will make a difference in the lives of a lot of kids. Yes, there are some discipline problems and there are kids who don't want to be there, but there are many more who are willing to learn and need you to teach them. Remember, dedicated teachers taught those who fill the careers that are so admired.
3. It is more fun working with kids than adults, especially if there is still a little kid left in you.
4. If things are not going well with this year's students, you don't have to fret; you will get a whole new bunch next year. Every year it is a different job.
5. While pundits, politicians, and the public fuss about the state of American education, you just close your classroom door and go to work. Most of the fuss isn't going to affect you or the kids you are teaching very much anyway.
6. No two days are the same.
7. If you don't like your employer, you can find a new one without having to change your pension plan.
8. When you see students in Wal-Mart years after you've had them in class, they give you a big hug and tell you how much you meant to them.
9. You get more positive feed-back from students and parents than you will ever get from co-workers outside of school.
10. The job is less stressful than most other jobs people with college degrees hold down. I know, teachers who have done nothing other than teach will disagree, but then, what do they have to compare it to?
Men, if you have been slugging it out in the corporate world for 25 or 30 years, your kids are grown and gone, and you no longer need that big income, maybe it is time for a mid-life career change. Or, maybe you're younger but already burnt out on the corporate treadmill.
If you're thinking you would have to go back to college and that would make it difficult if not impossible, maybe not. The Arkansas non-traditional approach to teacher certification may be for you.
To qualify, you need a college degree and enough course work to qualify to teach in a particular subject area. For example, I have a bachelor's degree in journalism, but I have enough course work in writing and literature to be certified to teach secondary language arts. It can often be done without going back to college.
When I was a teen-ager working on local dairy farms to finance the wrecks I called cars, I learned several of life's important lessons. One of them was there is milk and manure with every job. The trick is to maximize the milk and minimize the other. Teaching is one of those jobs where that happens.