The Mistrusted Male Teacher

Male elementary school teachers face low ranks, and sometimes parent bias.

ByABC News
August 27, 2008, 5:29 PM

Aug. 28, 2008— -- Of all the historical gender disparities in the American classroom, one has quietly stagnated for the last 20 years. Men still account for 16 percent of all elementary school teachers, according to a 2003 National Schools and Staffing Survey.

Advocates like the National Education Association have called for efforts to support young men interested in teaching, but sometimes it's the parents who carry on mistrust and sexual stereotypes.

On the popular Colorado parent blog hosted by the Denver Post, Milehighmamas, contributor Annie Payne recently wrote:

"…I was okay with our teacher assignment until I realized that not only is my son's new teacher a man, (wait for it Mitch McDad, don't get your boxers in a bunch just yet), he is also young and single! What's a young single dude doing teaching fourth grade anyway?!""

A similar discussion erupted on a Detroit's parent blog called Momslikeme earlier this month. A slew of self-conscious but clearly prejudiced posts responded to the question: "Do you think it is appropriate or inappropriate for young men to be teaching the little ones?"

Opinions ranged from "personally I think it's a little weird," to men are too rough and "if I had a male teacher in my K-3rd grades I would have freaked," to support for male teachers as strong mentors for fatherless children.

But Bryan G. Nelson, a teacher with 30 years of experience, has heard these inaccurate assumptions, and worse.

"Most people really want men teaching their children, but it does happen occasionally," said Nelson, who is the founding director of MenTeach, a support and recruitment organization for male teachers.

"I had a parent who was complaining and concerned about me working with her daughter," Nelson said. "The kid really liked me a lot, and because the child was liking me so much the mother got worried and suspicious."

Nelson said the mother's suspicion of a perverted relationship was quickly resolved within the school's staff and the mother eventually opened up about being strained and flustered by a divorce.

But Nelson, who took a graduate fellowship at Harvard to study men in secondary school teaching, found that overzealous suspicions of sexual abuse are one of the top three reasons why the teaching profession doesn't draw more men. From his research, the other two reasons are perceptions about men's nurturing abilities and low social status combined with low pay.