Why Men are Not a Bigger Part of the K-12 Education System

Tim Ihms Uncategorized

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I write this blog while sitting in the midst of over 200 teachers attending a training day for candidates working towards their National Board certification. And while sitting in this large, noisy meeting room, my thoughts returned me to my days of working on my master’s degree at the University of Northern Colorado. In my class of over 300 students learning their way to a degree, I was the only male working towards the special education degree offered by the university.

It is almost the same situation today as I sit here waiting to begin our training. There are 9 men attending, nine men out of 200 plus attendees.

There are very few males in education in Arizona. As I travel to small rural school districts in Arizona this year in my desire and goal to be a principal, I interview for principal positions at schools with 100% of the staff being female. Not one man in sight. Custodians, office staff, principals and teachers, all are women.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2011-2012, only 24% of the teachers in public schools were male. That is a big difference in male-to-female teachers that I don’t see any reason for this gross imbalance of males to females changing drastically any time soon.

So, why the low number of men in the profession? While performing my background readings for this blog, the majority of opinions on the web in answer to this question mainly focused on three ideas. People felt men were not in the teaching profession in grades K-12 for a few reasons. Some opinions said it was because women were in the profession and men thought it was demeaning to be associated with them. Reason two, teaching in public schools held little in the way of prestige. And three, the pay was not enough.

No man I have worked with has ever said anything close to expressing the idea it was demeaning to work with so many women but the other two reasons discussed in my research on the Internet, prestige, and pay, may have some validity.

From my 30 plus years in education, those two reasons have been consistent factors of why all of the men I have known have rejected teaching as a profession or left for other work. It is because of the lower pay and the inability that hard work will allow you to increase your pay or increased recognition.

Most men want to provide for their families. Most men want to be recognized for putting in a full day’s work. And most men want to have the opportunity to increase their responsibilities as their skills and experience grow.

Men have few avenues to show success for their hard work. Outside of sports and video games, what do young men have to show for any effort made in their lives, except success at their work or the amount of money being made?

In the world of education, I am now including education as being kindergarten through college; there is little recognition or upward mobility except in being an administrator or teaching a higher grade. That is not upward mobility. That is another job altogether or the least another teaching assignment.

There is little to nothing to show in education for working hard. If you are an outstanding teacher or a poor teacher, you both receive the same pay raise for essentially showing up. If your student test scores consistently grow twice the rate of district and state scores, you receive no extra bonus pay or recognition. If your students grow in their ability to show respect for others, in their work ethic, or applying their mastered skills in unique ways all because of your efforts, the world will never know and in most cases little care.

And to add to all of that is the lack of successful teaching models to work with, the absence of general mentoring programs to support teaching success for new teachers, clear guidelines for training student behaviors, essential instructional supplies, reasonable class sizes and clear achievement goals for students.

Instead teachers usually have to ask fellow teachers for how lessons are taught, search for someone willing to answer even basic questions about the school, sink or swim on training student’s behavior on their own, beg and scrounge for materials as basic as pencils and paper, work in classes with more than 25 students and with only a vague idea of what a successful year of teaching is.

There is little to motivate men to go into a profession that is essentially not very professional. But, not to worry, I have some suggestions on how to improve the education business as a positive workplace as well as improve our student’s education.

Though it is not a new suggestion, my first change is to raise salaries in Arizona 20%. Raising salaries raises the number of potential applicants for teaching positions, including more men. Higher salaries mean the male teachers are able to better support their families on their salary. But just raising salaries alone will do little to add more men to the workforce of education. Next, create different levels of teacher competency.

The differing levels of teacher competency or professionalism would be based on subject knowledge tests, school administrator reviews, and classroom accomplishments. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards makes a good attempt at setting standards, but for many reasons, the idea by itself will not change teacher quality or our student’s education much.

Titles would be attached to each level of teacher rating and salary growth like “Master Teacher 3” or “Newbie 2” or “About to Be Fired 1” could be used. Teacher pay would go up as teachers rise up through levels of expertise instead of watching all the teachers you work with, good and bad, receive pay raises. You have something to strive for that will probably and hopefully make you a better teacher.

Universities will have to change their course work to something that supports teacher skills. Subject skills, not teaching theory would be the emphasis for teacher coursework and testing towards upwards teaching mobility. Math skills, computer skills, English skills, and writing skills would have tests that exhibited increasing knowledge and understanding of what is needed to be successful in those subjects. Two more years of successful apprenticeship under an experienced teacher would complete an education degree.

All new teachers hired at schools would be provided a mentor to replace the usual sink or swim method for new teachers. A mentor with at least ten years of experience with students of all ages and backgrounds would be assigned.  A teacher who was there to model excellent teaching and support the newbie through the really tough behavior situations until the teacher’s skills and confidence grew.

Supplies. Really! All schools should provide a basic amount of literature, math manipulatives, and playground equipment before another computer is purchased for the administrators or teachers.

And lastly, why are teachers teaching? What should their class and the individual students that inhabit it look like academically as well as behaviorally? Men thrive under clear goals and expectations.

Men usually have different ideas than women of why work is important and what it should provide for them to keep them coming back. If our culture is serious about including men in education, changes need to occur immediately to meet that challenge, or schools will continue to lose the benefit of having men in the class.




I am an educator with 41 years of experience. An experience that includes teaching regular education kindergarten through twelfth grades; special education K-12 with the labels of mentally handicapped, learning disabilities, behavior disorder and multi-category; public and private schools; three states; started three private schools; board member at four schools; principal for eighteen years and custodian off and on throughout. I earned a Bachelor degree from ASU in Special Education and a Masters Degree from UNC in Learning Disabilities and Emotional Disturbed. Teaching certificates are in regular education k-8; principal; special education- learning disabilities, mentally handicapped, emotionally disturbed.

Comments 6

  1. Jen Hudson

    There’s a lot to unpack here, but one thing that stuck with me was the gender imbalance. This imbalance flips itself once we start to think about the administrative perspective.

    Some things to chew on from Phi Delta Kappan (2018):
    -“While 90% of elementary teachers are women, only 66% of elementary principals are women. In secondary schools, meanwhile, women make up 63% of teachers but just 48% of principals.”
    -“Men are proportionately more likely to gain promotion to principal, and to do so more quickly than women. In traditional public schools, male principals have taught a mean of only 10.7 years before becoming principal compared to 13.2 years for women.”
    -” just 24.1% of superintendents are women”


  2. James King

    I identify so strongly with the sentiment that teaching is not a prestigious profession – not because I believe it, but because I was told this by many people. People used to tell me “you can do more.” It probably did disuade me early in my 20’s and delayed my transition into the profession.

    Growing up, I had a similar observation: There are not a lot of male teachers, but there are a ton of men administrators.

    I wonder how many kids subconsciously notice this…

    1. Leah Clark

      I also notice that often male administrators manage female teachers. I wonder if there is data to help explain why more females are not in these roles. And yes, do the kids notice this?

  3. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    I appreciate your courage in taking on this issue, since it is difficult to discuss issues like gender or race disparities without tripping up on one generalization or another. These are difficult conversations to have.

    I enjoyed several parts of this piece, especially your labels for the different “levels” of teaching. “About to Be Fired 1,” Haha!

    I do take a slight issue with the following passage:
    “Most men want to provide for their families. Most men want to be recognized for putting in a full day’s work. And most men want to have the opportunity to increase their responsibilities as their skills and experience grow.

    Men have few avenues to show success for their hard work. Outside of sports and video games, what do young men have to show for any effort made in their lives, except success at their work or the amount of money being made?”

    I think the same could be said for women teachers. Well, except for childbirth. Women do have that exclusive possibility in the way of showing success for hard work. But I think I get what you are trying to say, which is that within traditional gender roles, the value placed on opportunities for increased prestige, pay and responsibility is perhaps culturally or emotionally more tied in with identity and self-esteem for men. But honestly, I love knowing that I have a profession totally separate from my husband’s, and thank goodness I do, because he has been unable to work full time for over two years now. Without my salary, we would lose all that we have worked for to build a family. I would love to have the opportunity to choose a career path that would allow me to be rewarded for ambition or success without having to become an administrator, or choose to cruise the shallower waters when life’s big challenges present themselves.

  4. Jess Ledbetter

    So many interesting points here! A truly important sentence that stands out above all: “There is little to motivate men to go into a profession that is essentially not very professional.” I hope to see the changes you have outlined here that might recruit and retain more men into a profession that matters so much. What a great piece.

  5. Beth Maloney

    This is such an important discussion to be having. I’ve been writing a draft blog on Richard Ingersoll’s 2018 updated report on the teaching profession which shows that the profession is trending overwhelmingly female. There are some pretty heavy implications that I’m grappling with in the post, which is why it’s still a draft. You’ve done great work here.

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