By Sarah Swenson, Assistant News Editor
Teaching is a female-dominated career, with 76% of teachers nationally female, and only 24% male. On Nantucket, that divide is even greater, with 80.5% of teachers female and 19.5% male. Since the 19th century, when women began to enter the profession, the percentage of women in the field has grown. At first, because with a high number of educated women, they could easily do the job, and didn’t need to be paid as much for the work. By the 1880s, there were more female than male teachers, although it took until the 1970s for female teachers to pass male teachers in high school. Unlike the gender gap in most other professions, it has not shrunk in recent years.
The gender gap has been attributed to many things, from a lack of male role models in early education to inspire boys to the low salary that teaching provides, especially in younger grades. The salary of teachers increases with the age of the students and is positively correlated with the number of men teaching to that grade. According to a research project out of Cornell University, although women’s salaries outside of teaching have risen since the 1970s, male salaries outside of teaching remain much higher, while women’s are comparable to the average teacher salary. The head of this experiment suggested that this could be a cause for the higher percentage of women in teaching. Philip N. Cohen, a sociologist from the University of Maryland, said that the cause of the lack of men in the career could be as simple as the presence of so many women. High interest in the career from women leads to a cultural devaluation of it. He believes that is the reason men have not shrunk the gender gap in teaching as women have with traditionally male careers, as mentioned in the first paragraph.
A study out of Pennsylvania University analyzing data from the US department of education claimed a ‘snowball effect’; fewer men in the classroom means fewer boys seeing teaching as a viable option for them when they grow up. The study asserted that role models are especially potent to young children, where men are less likely to be teaching. There are many other theories about the cause of the gender gap in teachers, and why it disproportionately affects younger grades. Some of the most prominent, according to a series of questionnaires from the University of Rio de Janeiro, are stereotypes about male teachers being sexual predators and fear that men teaching in younger grades must only be there because they are pedophiles.
Most of these proposed causes would have a greater effect on teachers in earlier grades, and this is reflected in statistics. Men make up 11% of elementary school (here meaning grades K-6) teachers and 36% of high school teachers. This discrepancy is mirrored in the Nantucket public school system, where men make up a minuscule percent of the Nantucket Elementary School (grades K-2) teaching staff, 9% of the Nantucket Intermediate School (3-5) teaching staff, 26% of the Cyrus Peirce Middle School (6-8), and 38% of the Nantucket High School teaching staff.
In college teachers, the gap vanishes, and in fact, reverses. More than 53% of teachers in college nationally are male. A sociological concept introduced by doctor Christine L. Williams known as the ‘glass escalator’ refers to the invisible ‘escalator’ that fast tracks men, usually heterosexual white men, to the top of careers that are typically female-dominated. It applies here to the way the higher paying teaching jobs are more male than the lower-paying ones. 46% of public high school principals are male, 22% more than the number of male teachers. On Nantucket, our principal and superintendent were male until this year. Now, however, Elizabeth Hallet and Mandy Vasil have replaced Mike Cozort and John Bucky as superintendent and principal, joining vice-principal Jennifer Psaradelis to make our upper administration all-female and subvert this effect.
For the teachers at our schools, there is a definite gap between male and female teachers. According to high school math teacher Darren Lucas-Hayes, the high school environment feels balanced compared to teaching at a lower level; “I previously worked as a TA at an elementary school. One teacher, one other TA, and the principal were the only male employees at the school.” Another math teacher at the high school, Paul Buccheri agreed that “the stigma may apply more towards elementary school teachers.”
Buccheri also stated, however, that though he recognized stigma towards men in younger education, “I don’t think there is a stigma about being a teacher. I had some great male teachers when I was in school, and they were definitely the kind of people that I looked up to. I don’t think that it is harder to get hired as a male teacher.”
Lucas-Hayes agreed with him, going a step further and commenting that though there are fewer male teachers in elementary school, “I don’t feel this is because males are having a harder time getting jobs; just that more females tend to go into elementary education.” They are not alone in this belief. According to author N.P. Ingram, the gender gap in teaching is not caused by discrimination or lack of role models. It is simply a personal choice. Whether it is caused by discrimination or discretion, the gender gap in the teaching career is unmistakably present, and still increasing.