Byline: Laura Diamond, Times-Union staff writer
At a time when more children are in need of a male role model, they are less likely to find one standing at the front of their elementary school classroom.
The percentage of men teaching elementary school is half of what it was two decades ago, according to a National Education Association report released in August. Men now account for only 9 percent of the nation's elementary school teachers.
Nationwide, men make up 35 percent of teachers in middle and high school. But that number is also down from a high of 50 percent in 1986.
Educators and researchers partly blame this decline on the teaching profession's low salary and status. The career isn't held in as high a regard as it was 20 years ago. At the same time, job opportunities have grown in higher-paying fields.
The numbers are particularly low in elementary school because, surveys show, many men don't even consider teaching young children, saying they view the job as "women's work."
But with more children growing up without a father at home -- three out of 10 Florida children don't live with their biological father, according to a state commission -- some child experts and educators are stressing the need for a greater male presence in the historically female elementary school.
"Many of our kids, really most of our kids, don't have a male role model at home, and it would be just wonderful if we had more men here to serve as mentors and role models," said James Young, principal of Rufus E. Payne Elementary School, which has only one male classroom teacher.
That isn't to say one gender makes better teachers, he said, just an acknowledgement that children benefit from having a male teacher.
Men and women often approach situations differently, said Amy Bobrow, a clinical psychologist with the New York University Child Study Center School Partnership. Because children model their behavior after the adults in their lives, they benefit most when exposed to men and women.
Male teachers also show students that men value education and caring for children, said Bryan Nelson, founder of MenTeach, a non-profit group aimed at recruiting male teachers.
"Remember, children learn by seeing," Nelson said. "If there are no men in the school, the message they get, particularly boys, is that school isn't a place for them to be."
But Terrie Brady, president of the Duval County teachers union, said schools need to focus on finding more elementary school teachers, period, regardless of gender.
"It doesn't matter to me if they are men or women," said Brady, a former kindergarten teacher. "As long as they are certified and understand the maturation level of young children and are able to give them what they need to succeed in school, they are fine with me. …