Louisiana State University
Professions within the field of education are indisputably stratified by gender. Currently, the elementary sector is overwhelmingly (upwards of 80%) female, yet administrators are predominately men (more than 60% of all principals are male, although in rural areas this figure goes up to 90% at the secondary level) (NCES, 1992). To break this down, in the 1994-95 school year, women represented only 3% of superintendents, 6% of high school principals, 14% of middle-level principals, and 34% of elementary school principals (Nelson, 1995, cited in Montecinos and Nielsen, 1997, p. 47). Men dominate the professorate in number, comprising 73% of all full-time university faculty (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1994, as reported in Street, et al., 1995).
The National Center for Education Statistics (1992) summarizes the problem: Males predominate in the higher prestige and higher paid positions at all educational levels of teaching and administration, whereas women predominate in the lower paid positions, such as early childhood education (as reported in Griffin, p. 8). Yet in all this disequilibrium a surprisingly calm spot (in statistical sense only) appears. At present, secondary teaching is one of the least gender-biased professions in this country. Males represent just a few percent less than half of all secondary teachers (NCES, 1992).
Most studies of sex segregation in the workforce have focused on women's experiences in male-dominated occupations (Williams, 1992). Several studies have examined the motivations and experiences of elementary teachers and student teachers (Montecinos and Nielsen, 1997; DeCorse and Vogtle, 1997), yet few studies have examined the experiences of male secondary teachers.
By exploring why males chose to teach at the secondary level over positions in other areas of education, this study hopes to be a step in uncovering what makes secondary teaching so singular in its composition that it draws roughly equal numbers of men and women to its ranks.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted individually with each of the participants to examine the patterns of influence which led these teachers to their present profession instead of other areas of education such as administration or teaching at the elementary or university level.
Participants were selected from two separate schools, four from each. One school was a smaller university laboratory school; the other was a relatively large, rural high school. Participants taught a number of different subjects at the secondary level. Five held at least a master's degree; one held a doctorate. All had several years of experience, the maximum being 36 years. The minimum experience at the high school level was two years, although this particular participant performed duties instructing for a number of years before retiring from his job in industry. The next-to-least amount of experienced possessed by a participant was six years.
Interviews were recorded on tape, then transcribed on computer. Strands of analysis were identified and examined in relation to previous literature.
Participants were asked in general what led them to teaching. Preprofessional experiences were frequently cited as influences, particularly tutoring at some time. Many also found duties instructing in the military or in previous jobs in industry enjoyable. Other experiences, some from as far back as junior high, working as a teacher's aide, guiding extra-curricular activities such as clubs or as a teacher's aide were also recounted. Engaging in activities which somehow mirrored a facet of teaching seemed to play a defining role in regarding the profession as a viable option. A number of participants believed they were innately meant to become teachers. Yet, of the eight interviewed five worked in other professions before going into teaching. Of the remaining three, two trained in other areas outside of education. Only one had studied education from the time of entry into college.
The second most commonly cited reason to enter education (the first being commitment to children) among both males and females in Nielsen and Montecinos' (1997) study was the desire to follow in the footsteps of exemplary teachers the participants encountered as students. Here, too, a surprisingly diverse array of role models were identified as major influences. One participant described an older female teacher who was a strong and efficient disciplinarian, commented, I thought a lot about how she was and how she dealt with kids and I liked it.... She was always very competent, very kind and had very high standards and I thought, 'Hey, I'd like to do that.' Another participant described a younger junior high teacher who was on the same level as his students. Still another described a college teacher who didn't have an elaborate plan. In fact, he walked in with a book, opened it up, got his piece of chalk, and just started talking. His natural ability to get information across particularly impressed this participant.
Although parents tend to be largely unsupportive of male progeny entering elementary education (DeCorse and Vogtle, 1997), participants here told mixed stories. Roughly half reported that their parents were, in fact, supportive from the time of their son's decision, often because they recognized an aptitude early on. Others describe the opposite experience. [M]y father was appalled. He said, you can't make a living teaching. I said, that's my problem, not yours, Dad. Another reported that his family didn't think teaching was a good profession. There's no respect and it isn't lucrative. And they're absolutely right... but we kind of went into it... open-eyed, so we weren't surprised by those things. Many commented that their families felt that they were wasting their lives because I could be doing something more significant. When asked how this negativity might be refuted one participant commented I don't think it's possible to explain why to someone who doesn't value it why it's so valuable. My parents always thought I should be a college professor. They thought that if I wanted to be an academic, that's certainly a much more status filled profession.... However, some of the participants concluded that their parents were more accepting of their career choice once they saw their satisfaction as teachers.
The shorter hours and summers off were definitely an incentive to the profession for many participants. Some enjoyed the summers simply for leisure and time with family, others utilized the time for professional development by going back to school. However, the fact that their salary was rationalized by this fact distressed many. One teacher stated, I wasn't thrilled with the prospects, but I came into this with my eyes open. I knew I wasn't going to get rich teaching.
Most of the participants stated clearly that they entered teaching not for the money but for what the profession entailed.This illustrates Gerson's (1993) assertion that males have begun choosing careers stressing service to society and personal satisfaction over extrinsic rewards such as money and prestige. Some men have become disillusioned with traditional male professions and attracted to less lucrative but more personally satisfying lines of work (as reported in DeCorse and Vogtle, 1997, p. 41). One participant also indicated this. I feel that I still have the same value as if I was an engineer or if I'm an educator or if I was governor of the state.
[T]he dream of being a teacher that was more important than actually what I would earn. Money's not an incentive for me. The incentive for me teaching is seeing a difference in my kids and helping my kids get through their daily lives.
Why Not Administration?
It would be natural to expect secondary teachers to consider a principalship for the greater pay and influence. However, for the most part participants reported very little interest in administration in spite of or perhaps because of experience with duties in a related capacity. Of the participants, only three considered administration early in their teaching career, but two of those had decided against it. The remaining aspirant was a relatively new teacher who possessed relatively little experience with administrative duties.Why Not Elementary?
Among the most frequently cited deterrents from administration were the nature of the duties, the high level of responsibility, and the hours. In fact, nearly all participants referred to the phenomenal amount of time principals are required to devote to their school each day as a major factor in their lack of want for the position. Comments included:One participant stated that he was a teacher first and administration was too far removed from that role. I'd rather be with the kids for one thing. Another added, That job to me has nothing to do with teaching. That is not a teaching role. To me an administrator ought to by law be required to teach at least one class of kids to remember what he's here for.
I have never met a happy principal.... Everybody says, well, it's a lot better money. Yeah, but the principal's the first one here and the last one gone. He's at every sporting event. I screw up, I might get in trouble, but so does he. It's not worth it. I think administrators spend 20 hours a day being administrators. They're at night functions, weekend functions. They don't have a lot of home life and home life is very important to me. I don't know if I wouldn't enjoy it so much as there are a lot of other added responsibilities and a lot of other headaches.... If you look at some principals and how they are involved with their school from 6:30 in the morning till 8 o'clock at night, 3 or 4 days a week... that's something I didn't want to spend time with. There's a ton of lawsuits against them. We're having tryouts right now.... Somebody's always got a problem that their son or daughter didn't get picked for something, so they'll bring a lawsuit against them. There's just too many headaches. It's not worth it. I think the hassle's too much. I think most people go into that mainly because there's more money in that.... Later on you start to think more of your time and your sanity than the money.
Another participant was resistant to the idea of administration because for so long in his career he had been guided toward it.This phenomenon of being tracked into areas within their profession considered more legitimate for men has been described by Williams (1992) as the glass escalator. Often this form discrimination paradoxically leads to better pay and more prestige. An example of this was supplied by a participant who told of how he had been asked to literally be the token male on a committee, then added I hope there was more to it than that. This led directly to getting his master's degree and, consequently, better pay. He commented, I don't know whether it's because I'm good at it or because I don't complain about it.
Maybe because so many people have tried to put me in a box. Any male who goes into education is automatically looked on as administrative material somewhere down the line going to see if that person wants to do administration. I was receiving a lot of pressure. In fact... two assistant principals had been working on me for about a year and a half trying to get me into going back [to the university] and being certified for administration.
Williams also found that there is a preference for hiring men in underrepresented occupations. Even in the roughly equal distribution at the secondary level, one participant found that his gender mattered.
There were two other young ladies who had applied that were just coming out of their student teaching. They had their certification. I didn't have mine.... I think that I got the job because I was a guy and because of my age. Both were major factors.... The kids had substitutes for a month before they hired me. I think they hired me mainly because [of] problems with behavior. They felt that just the fact that I was male and I was much older than any of the others would give me an edge on controlling the students.
Although participants frequently reported a love of or a natural ability to work with children, they were very selective about which ages they believed they would enjoy teaching. Most participants put a solid boundary below which they stated they would either not be comfortable or would not enjoy teaching.
DeCorse and Vogtle's (1997) research of elementary student teachers uncovered some concern over images of male teachers presented by the media's in connection with cases of child abuse and sexual harassment. Perhaps due to the unsavory nature of the subject only one participant broached the subject. He explained, It's a good way to be investigated for a guy.
Williams (1992) found that men are very distressed by the negative stereotypes associated with males in teaching. Their self-esteem is undermined and they second guess their motivations for entering the profession. Men who might otherwise show an aptitude or interest in teaching (particularly at the elementary level) are dissuaded from pursuing what might they might otherwise find a rewarding career.
Why Not the University?
Considering the love of a subject area expressed by some participants, it might be logical to conclude that teaching at the university level would be compatible with their interests. However, participants reported this was definitely not the case for several of reasons.
Finding the time to go back to school for additional degrees was one obstacle to teaching at the university level was reported occasionally, (Part of the problem with teaching college is the pressure to get your master's.... I mean here there's pressure too, but not as great), however, simply leaving a much-loved profession was more often expressed. One participant related:Another frequently reported difference between high school and college was the belief that students were much more malleable because of their younger age.
I thought about it... and the one thing that really keeps me at the high school level is the extracurricular activities. Being a sponsor of a club... those things are the things that I wouldn't be able to do at college.... I know that I'm helping the kids in the classroom, but I'm also helping the kids outside of the classroom. I don't think at the college level I'd have that same opportunity. I felt like I could make more of a difference to someone who was at an impressionable age. The very things that give meaning to teaching to me I wouldn't get it as a college professor. College kids are certainly much more worldly and cynical about their education.... They're harder to reach.
Suggestions to Recruit More Males
Montecinos and Nielsen (1997) advise that teacher education programs must make efforts to recruit and retain members from this underrepresented group (p. 49) and call for strategies to retain men as classroom teachers as rates comparable to women teachers (p. 53). They add, based on a recent figures from the NCES (1992), that men should be considered a group to be targeted in current efforts toward having a teaching force representing the social diversity of larger society (p. 48).
When asked to suggest ways by which more males might be attracted to education one participant summarized the issues addressed by nearly all: Power, money, and the possibility of advancement motivates a lot of men. None of those things are present in this profession. Give us more money, give us control of our classes, and some way in which to increase our influence on our environment. However, another participant pointed out, A lot of people say they aren't going to go [into education] because there's not enough money in it, but at the same time... I think it's something that you need to want to do on your own.
Due to the frequency and enthusiasm with which participants cited preprofessional experiences, it would be advisable for teachers at all levels to examine utilizing instructional strategies which allow their students to a more assertive role in the classroom. By providing students with a more direct course in instructional duties (perhaps peer tutoring), teachers may provide opportunities for students to discover whether they possess this innate capacity to instruct as well.
Secondary teaching is more than merely a midpoint on a spectrum of gender stratified occupations. The fact that the population of teachers at this level is composed roughly equally of men and women is perhaps less due to the fact that the secondary level is a transition between them and is perhaps more due to the underlying characteristics of the teachers' clientele. Secondary education is a unique area where teachers find the best of both worlds in education: their students are still impressionable, yet can handle more challenging material than younger grades might.
Given the claim that they enjoyed working with malleable young minds it would be reasonable to suspect that participants would enjoy teaching at the elementary level where the most impressionable students are. The two main reasons given for this aversion, affinity for their subject area and a lack of nurturant qualities, are perhaps rationalizations developed under social pressure to stay out of the most feminine areas of education. Epstein (1988) finds that men moving into traditionally female jobs are perceived as stepping down in status.... These perceptions may explain why men who otherwise might show interest in or an aptitude for traditionally female jobs are probably discouraged from pursuing them because of negative stereotypes associated with them and the stigma of working in a female-identified occupation (as reported in DeCorse and Vogtle, 1997, p. 38). These males might have been just as well suited to and pleased with teaching younger students had they not been steered toward an area of the profession where an apparent compromise is made.
However, regardless of the level of teaching, the low salary lack of prestige never give men the opportunities to experience teaching firsthand, so many males who might have an aptitude for teaching are steered away. If the economic incentives were present, men might be more committed to their roles as teachers and perhaps would not be lost as often to the lure of administration or teaching at the college level.
The fact that role models were so often cited by participants as major factors in their decision to enter teaching stresses calls by other researchers (Hechtman and Rosenthal, 1991; Mancus, 1992; Wood and Hoag, 1993; DeCorse and Vogtle, 1997; Montecinos and Nielsen, 1997) to bring more males into teaching as role models.
One participant provided an intriguing suggestion to bring more males to the profession. Retirees from the military and industry often possess all the personal characteristics administrators admire in their best instructors: organization, a good sense of discipline and motivational strategies, experience in training and instructing, experience with children (their own), and honest knowledge of the demands of the job market. Additionally, the deterrent of the profession's low pay is offset by the supplement of a pension from a previous job or branch of service.
Regarding this population as temporary employees would be imprudent. Given the throng of teachers who leave in their first few years in the profession, nearly every teacher in the field should be viewed as "temporary." Researchers agree that more men are needed in education at all levels. This untapped population brings a wisdom and experience to the classroom unknown by the fresh-out-of-college, twenty-something teacher. These individuals could be a valuable asset to the classroom and may help redefine the profession in unimagined ways as well as providing much sought after role models who allow boys to consider teaching a viable career option.
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