Tuesday, December 15, 2009
One of my favorite movies about teachers and teaching is the 1990 comedy thriller Kindergarten Cop starring Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a tough cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to bust a dangerous drug dealer. I love this movie because it shows what can happen when a stern but caring man enters the classroom as a teacher.
Of course, Kindergarten Cop is fiction, but it points to the need for more male teachers in today's classrooms. The scenes in which Arnold interacts with his young students and discovers something about himself in the process are truly inspirational and right on the mark.
Naturally, he gives up his badge at the end of the film to become a full time teacher - and yes he does get the girl, played by Penelope Ann Miller.
Unfortunately, this seldom happens in real life. In today's classrooms, fewer and fewer students are taught by men, depriving many kids of the kind of strong male role models so many of them desperately need.
The sad truth is that the teaching profession is in dire need of more men who are willing to accept the challenge of teaching our kids. The latest statistics show that the situation is getting worse - not better.
In 2006, men accounted for only one-fourth of all teachers according to a report released by the National Education Association. The problem is especially pronounced at the elementary and middle school levels since more than half of all male teachers work at the high school level.
According to Men Teach, a non-profit organization that enourages men to enter teaching, only 18.8% of all elementary and middle school teachers were men in 2008. At the high school level during the same year, men comprised 44% of the work force, still a distinct minority.
The reasons for the shortage of male teachers, according to Men Teach, include low pay and lack of prestige. Another reason is the continuing perception in American culture that teaching is "women's work." The lack of any organized national effort to recruit more male candidates to attend teaching colleges also contributes to the shortage of male teachers.
The effect of this situation over the long term could be costly for the future of both our schools and the nation. Recent research, as reported on Edutopia, suggests that boys generally learn better from male teachers. The lack of a strong male influence in the classroom could help to account for low academic achievement by male students in certain areas.
When I was a kid in school, I was fortunate to have a number of tough but fair men teachers in elementary school, junior high (as we called it then), and high school. They held my feet to the fire and did not let me get away with very much. They also taught me a lot about learning and about life. I still remember them today.
Kids today, both boys and girls, deserve to have the same opportunity to learn from strong, dedicated men that I did. Unfortunately, I have heard little discussion about this problem coming from our national leaders.
Hopefully, the Race to the Top initiative now being pushed by President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan will at some point address this critical shortage of male teachers in America's schools.
After all, the Race to the Top cannot be won by women alone.