In a Complex Voice: The Contradictions of Male Elementary Teachers' Career Choice and Professional Identity

By Benton DeCorse, Cynthia J.; Vogtle, Stephen P. | Journal of Teacher Education, January-February 1997 | Go to article overview

In a Complex Voice: The Contradictions of Male Elementary Teachers' Career Choice and Professional Identity


Benton DeCorse, Cynthia J., Vogtle, Stephen P., Journal of Teacher Education


Men may cook or weave, or dress dolls or hunt humming birds, but if such activities are appropriate occupations of men, then the whole society, men and women alike, votes them as important. When the same occupations are Performed by women, they are regarded as less important (Mead, 1949, p. 159).

It is well established that teaching is a largely female pursuit (Sugg, 1978; Williams, 1992; Wrigley, 1992). In mid-19th century, Beecher (1846) exhorted women to enlist in an army of female teachers who would start schools in the West to save untutored children from ignorance, and to create an honored profession for women (pp. 10- 11). By 1900, 74% of students in normal schools or normal departments of colleges and universities were women (Acker, 1994). In public elementary schools during the mid-20th century, 80% to 90% of all teachers were women (Acker, 1994; Wrigley, 1992). Some scholars (Joseph & Burnaford, 1994; Sugg, 1978) believe that the transformation of the schoolteacher role from male to female was so complete that teaching was irrevocably feminized.

Recent estimates indicate women hold 68% of all elementary AND secondary teaching and administrative positions, whereas they hold a small minority of faculty positions in higher education (Wrigley, 1992). Although research on educational and professional equity has focused on underrepresentation of women in higher education, some researchers suggest the underrepresentation of men at the lower levels of education also should be addressed (Kimmel & Messner, 1995; McCormick, 1994). The lack of males teaching young children persists despite a perceived social need for men at the lower levels.

Theoretical Framework

We ground this study in social constructivist views of behavior and career choice. Although economic and political factors are inherently involved in professional choices, psychosocial characteristics are the main focus of this inquiry (Attenbaugh, 1992; Kincheloe, 1993). Some scholars (e.g., Acker, 1994; Bem, 1993; Biklen, 1995; Hoffman, 1981; Wrigley, 1992) draw on feminist theory to construct bases for understanding the evolution of the teaching profession; others (Gerson, 1993; Kimmel & Messner, 1995; Williams, 1992) use more generalized gender literature to delineate characteristics applicable to understanding of males as minorities in elementary teaching.

Bem (1993) and Van Leeuwen (1993) cite the psychological considerations of conflict between career and family as a reason for women's limited career trajectory. Similar factors may influence men away from certain occupations that they might otherwise choose, after controlling for historical and psychological differences. Men, who may have direct, aggressive, and monetarily-determined career goals (Kimmel & Messner, 1995), have psychological prohibitions against choosing professions typically perceived as female dominated (Brabeck & Weisgerber, 1989; Williams, 1992).

Gilligan (1982) articulated a perspective that women uniquely process information and make moral decisions. Her work, with that of other feminist theorists (cf. Bem, 1993; Biklen, 1995; Epstein, 1988; Kessler-Harris, 1990), has transformed thinking about cognition, morality, and career development from a male perspective of competition and judgment to one of interpersonal and caring aspects of development. The perspective is not new to teaching. Teaching reproduces a hierarchical structure favoring men in positions of authority with women in the role of nurturing and interacting directly with children (Fukada, Fukada, & Hicks, 1993; Sugg, 1978). A profession with feminine qualities in performance and masculine authority is an enigma for males' career choice.

Descriptions of the state of teaching in historical research are often negative. Langeveld (1963) states, No country should pride itself on its educational system if the teaching profession has become predominantly a world of women (p. …

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