A week before school started, my mother was walking my nephew Alec to his piano lesson and asking him questions about school. Alec was about to start first grade. She asked him about what types of things he thought he'd do and what the other kids would be like and whether or not he was excited and who his teacher would be. Alec didn't have too many answers that Monday morning, but he was very firm in his response about his teacher. "I don't know," he told my mother "but I sure hope it's a man because all my teachers have been women." Although Alec had only attended kindergarten, he had also had two years of pre-school through the district's education program--three teachers, three women.
Not unusual. As I think back on my own education, talk with students, and observe my own classes, I know that Alec's chances of having a male elementary school teacher, particularly in the primary grades, are slim. I had three male teachers in elementary school--Mr. Badger (4th), Mr. Fawson (5th) and Mr. Lundquist (6th). But as I talk with students and friends, I seem to be the exception. For example, in children's literature each semester, a course required for students planning to teach elementary school, I usually have only three to five men in a class of thirty-five. This semester there are three; one is planning to teach secondary English. In teaching composition in the elementary school I have not had a male student in the past three semesters. I ask my students "where are all the men?" They tell me "they're in the engineering classes." When I taught technical writ-ing for engineering majors, I asked my students, "where are all the women?" They would tell me, "in the education classes."
Some gender lines seem difficult to cross. Seventy-three percent off all public school teachers were women (Digest of Ed. Statistics 1993-1994). Although there was no breakdown between elementary and secondary teachers, experiences show that there will be more men in secondary programs--math, science, football coach, etc. In 1997 there were a total of 46,840 elementary education graduates from our colleges and universities. Only 11 percent (or 5,106) were men, the remaining 89 percent were women.
Education, especially in the early grades, needs good, strong teachers who are role models for thinking and learning. Our children, girls and boys, need teachers, men and women, who encourage them to strive and reach and accomplish. Men and women can both accomplish that task. And, hopefully, as this field which so long has been sustained and maintained by women opens and invites men to participate, so will more fields still dominated by men become more available and inviting to women.
I told my students the other day we needed to start recruiting. Our class needed diversity. Our class needed another voice. Will we find it?
Copyright 1999, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.
Reference Citation: Chapman, Jane. (1999). "Gender Representation in College and Elementary Classrooms." WILLA, Volume 8, p. 18, 20.