Why Men Don't Teach Elementary School

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In the past, girls began to lag behind boys as they entered high school, particularly in science and math. But efforts in the past few decades have paid off. Today, 60 percent of all college graduates are women.

"Most boys are not falling off the cliff, but when we took the shackles off girls, they began to zoom," Thompson said.

Organizations like the National Education Association have called for efforts to support young men interested in teaching, but many are discouraged by the relatively low pay, especially if they are the primary breadwinner.

Stereotypes about male teachers, and sometimes mistrust, persist.

"It's very hard to change the suspicion of men who are going to elementary education when there are so few of them," Thompson said. "Schools ask me to talk to men on their faculty and when I sit with them behind closed doors, they say the moms look at them like potential pedophiles.

"If they are too nurturing or a mother comes in and sees a teacher reading in a chair and the child is leaning against the teacher or cuddling him, they freak out," he said. "Men tell me they only have to look in the mom's face to know what they are thinking."

That has never been the case with Wiederspan, he said, although when he first started teaching, mothers showed an unreasonable curiosity about what kind of a teacher he might be.

"I would have literally four or five parents sitting at a table at a certain point in the year observing me," Wiederspan said. "And it was nerve-wracking as an untenured teacher."

He's now comfortable in his role, still teaching among only a handful of male teachers, seven in all, three of whom are gym teachers.

"I have high expectations and I lay that out in the beginning and reinforce it throughout the year," he said.

"I am definitely strict, but I am fair. ... And there are boundaries."

Just a few weeks ago, for instance, a female substitute teacher had trouble with three students, all boys.

"When I came back, there was a whole note, three incidents, and the kids were sent to the principal's office. I took them aside and told them, 'You know, I am disappointed.' … They will take advantage."

Married with three children, a 20-year-old daughter and 11-year-old twin boys with autism, Wiederspan sometimes laughs that his classroom is easier than the demands of fatherhood.

After 27 years, he says, "I still like being with the kids. You can joke with them and you don't always have to be so serious. It's like being a dad, but they get to go home."

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