The economic downturn seems to have worsened an already-vast gender gap between the numbers of men teachers and women teachers, particularly in the early grades.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 Current Population Survey, men teachers make up only 18.3 percent of elementary and middle school teachers and 2.3 percent of preschool and kindergarten instructors—a dip from the 2007 prerecession proportions of 19.1 percent in grades 1 to 8 and 2.7 percent in preschool and kindergarten.  

The numbers of men teachers and women teachers on high school staffs are more evenly divided but still off parity; 42 percent of high school teachers in 2011 were men, down from 43.1 percent in 2007.

A panel of researchers and former elementary teachers at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia last month argued that the diminishing status of teachers generally, coupled with continuing sexism against men teachers working with children, is helping tamp down the number of men willing to enter the field. 

Chanté Chambers, the managing director of recruitment at historically black colleges and universities at the New York City-based Teach For America, sees the same trend playing out in her organization’s efforts to recruit teachers among high-achieving college students. She said education’s perceived low status is “definitely a major barrier” to bringing more men teachers, and particularly black men, into the teaching field.

“They’re coming from communities that are not necessarily affluent, so it adds to that pressure to be that breadwinner, to have financial stability, … to make six figures so they can give back to their communities in a meaningful way,” she said.

In previous economic declines, such as from 1939 to 1942, more men entered K-12 teaching, according to Bryan G. Nelson, head of MenTeach, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that works to help men become educators.

“Don’t get me wrong: If we started paying elementary teachers $150,000 a year, we’d see a massive influx of men teachers,” Mr. Nelson told Education Week in a separate interview, “but if it were just money, the proportion [of male teachers] would be the same in secondary and elementary schools, and that’s not the case.”

In spite of calls by President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for more men—particularly black men—to become teachers, researchers said federal and state accountability measures have effectively lowered the prestige of teaching.

“The discussion around men teachers has gone pretty quiet recently; a lot of our discussion around diversity has taken a back seat to these other things, like the common core, state tests, high stakes, and all this stuff,” said Shaun P. Johnson, an assistant professor of elementary education at Towson University in Towson, Md., and a former District of Columbia teacher.

He said: “The status of the teaching profession, I believe, weighs very heavily right now on men’s decision to go into teaching. Teacher bashing is a new national pastime … and [one] which you could argue is highly gendered. Its status as a profession isn’t going to improve in this climate; it’s only going to get worse.”

Mr. Johnson and other researchers who contributed to the 2011 book Go Where You Belong: Male Teachers as Cultural Workers in the Lives of Children, Families, and Communities spoke about their research and experiences at the research conference.

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