By Jesse Johnson and Kelsey Gross
INDIANA -- DeAnna M. Laverick remembers her male student teachers holding and helping pre-school students. The teachers and kindergartners "really bonded," she said.
"They were really enthusiastic and eager to play," said Laverick, 40, an education professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania during a March 2 interview.
Male teachers have much to offer in elementary education, educators say. But locally and nationally they are in short supply.
Male teachers play an important role in the lives of elementary students and strike a chord with male students, said Jason W. Stubbe, 27, a first-grade teacher at Horace Mann Elementary.
Studies reinforce his point. A 2006 analysis by an economics professor at Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore, Pa., found that male students learn better from male teachers and female students from female teachers. The study was supported by the National Center for Education Statistics, a unit within the U.S. Department of Education.
Laverick said in her 10 years of kindergarten teaching experience, male teachers were often better with handling disruptive students, although she said she doesn't like to admit it.
Jason M. Olear, 28, a third through sixth grade music teacher at Ben Franklin Elementary agreed with Laverick. He said males are better equipped to deal with disruptive male students.
"It's a totally different atmosphere," Olear said during a Feb. 15 phone interview.
Benjamin Franklin has four male teachers that Olear said make sure disruptive students are handled appropriately. Olear said this enabled him to teach music on a higher level because the students were more disciplined than at other elementary schools where he has taught in the area.
Olear said he has witnessed disruptive male students change their behavior for the better after having a male teacher. The reason: So many male students had female teachers.
"It's a release for some of them," Olear said.
Male teachers give male students someone to relate to, he said.
However, the percentage of male teachers in Indiana is 16 percent, according to a directory of the school district. That figure is below the national average. The breakdown in each of the district's four elementary schools:
Ben Franklin has four male teachers of the 38 teachers employed there--11 percent of the teaching faculty.
Eisenhower has four out of 33, or 12 percent.
East Pike has seven male teachers out of 36, or 19 percent.
Horace Mann has six out of 24, or 25 percent.
Indiana's school district mirrors a national average. In 2008, the number of male elementary and middle school teachers nationwide dropped to 18.8 percent from 19.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These numbers, combined with the studies showing that male students learn better and relate better to male teachers, correlate with statistics showing male students fell behind female students all the way to college.
The NCES, the federal education-statistics center, reported that in 2009, 9-year-old male students scored an average of seven points below females on the reading portion of standardized tests and one point below females on the math portion. According to a 2001 NCES study, males lagged behind females in high school and college, too.
The study reported that males are less likely than females to graduate high school or college. Female students were more likely to enroll in college immediately after graduating high school. And more female students reported that they intended to go to graduate school.
The lack of male teachers in elementary education starts in collegiate teacher-education programs. Zachary M. Whited, 26, a fourth-grade language arts teacher at East Pike Elementary, who graduated from IUP, and Stubbe, who graduated from the University of Florida, said very few men were in their education classes.
On the job, however, all three male teachers said they felt encouraged by the staffs at the elementary schools.
"Most people I've come in contact with generally think it's nice having a male in elementary education," said Whited in a Feb. 15 email.
"All of the other teachers, the principal, and administrators are all very supportive of male teachers," said Stubbe in a Feb. 11 phone interview.
Men are much less likely to teach elementary school, said Laverick. The shortage starts in the collegiate schools of education. Laverick said she has five male education students a year out of 40 students total, on average. She blamed the traditional view of women as educators in elementary and middle schools and said men generally pursue more prestigious careers.
Male role models are a leading factor in males choosing to go into elementary education. Olear said nearly all of the male teachers he knows had strong male role models, some of them teachers, when they were children. Fewer male teachers and increasing numbers of households with absent fathers may make strong male role models hard to come by.
All the sources interviewed for this story stressed the importance of male role models in a child's life.
"The only exposure they have to a male figure is at school," said Laverick.
Whited said he has tried to fill the void.
"I can be a role model for a student who may not have a positive male figure in his or her life," he said.
Kelsey Gross, a sophomore journalism and English major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from West Mifflin, Pa.
Jesse Johnson, a sophomore journalism major at IUP, is from Wysox, Pa.
Sidebar: Males in Indiana classrooms, by the numbers
Elementary School Male Students % Male Teachers %
Ben Franklin 54 11
Horace Mann 46.4 25
East Pike 49.6 19
Eisenhower 51.3 12
Source: Indiana Area School District facilities directory