Tricia Urich watched with amazement a recent Christmas party in her son's classroom.
Urich, 46, of Ross, said her son, Tommy, 10, and his fourth- grade classmates at Perrysville Elementary in the North Hills School District were tossing a little ball, laughing and talking.
But when it was time to get back to business, teacher Brett Parkhill only had to tell the children once to return to their seats.
"They fell into place and got quiet," said Urich.
Parkhill, 28, and other men are in the minority as elementary teachers. According to the National Education Association in Washington, D.C., the percentage of male elementary teachers is at an all-time low -- down from 17 percent in 1979 to 14 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which data is available. While there were 51,996 more male teachers in 2005 than 1979, there were also 546,740 more women.
The North Hills School District currently has 84 female and 28 male elementary teachers.
NEA officials say the shortage of male elementary teachers is detrimental to young children because men are healthy role models for boys and girls alike. Some students respond to a male presence, and male teachers can be particularly effective.
In Pennsylvania, 19 percent of elementary teachers are men, according to the NEA.
The Pennsylvania Education Association reports that of 49,913 elementary teachers who are members, 6,794, or 14 percent, are men and 43,119, or 86 percent, are women.
James Weaver, PSEA president, said the organization is concerned about the disparity
"The ideal would be to provide diverse experiences for our students," said Weaver, 56, of State College, Centre County.
Weaver said the deficiency exists in part because of the misconception that "only females can be nurturing." Money can also play a part.
"Some males go into education and do not see the salary (level they would like), so they do other things that have a higher salary," Weaver said.
With many children living with mothers in single-parent homes, male teachers can be particularly valuable assets, Weaver said. …