November 07, 2018TRI-CITY AREA — In recent weeks the Tri-City Times has featured articles about the newly-implemented Watch DOGS programs at elementary schools in Imlay City and Almont featuring male role models.
The articles focused on the rewards of providing young children with a greater number of male role models in their schools and classrooms.
Watch DOGS can include fathers, stepdads, grandfathers and uncles willing to devote at least one day per year at the student's school.
The "Dads of Great Students" programs at Imlay City's Borland Elementary and Almont's Orchard Primary are receiving outstanding reviews from students, teachers, administrators, and the Watch DOGS themselves.
Fewer male teachers
While the programs seem to be accomplishing their goal of increasing a male presence inside schools, they do not address the absence of male teachers in our schools.
To better understand why fewer men are entering the profession, Superintendents Dr. Stu Cameron of Imlay City and Dr. William Kalmar of Almont offered some observations based on their experience and research on the subject.
Cameron pointed out that elementary level teaching has traditionally been dominated by females, resulting in the perception among some that teaching is a profession more suitable to women.
Almont High School teacher Mark Sonowski is among a select group of men who find teaching young people to be a rewarding career.
"This perception contributes to a cycle in which the profession is considered by males as being less viable," Cameron said. "They may associate the profession as one intended for females and not consider teaching as a career path."
Cameron said studies reveal that some men adhere to the idea that they must be the primary "breadwinners," and that the teaching profession would not afford them the opportunity to fill that role.
Kalmar said he believes the absence of male teachers at the elementary level is in many cases a matter of choice.
"I think this is more a function of professional preference rather than anything else," said Kalmar. "Many male teachers are interested in athletics or specific content, such as science. Therefore, they gravitate toward the older grade levels."
As evidence, Kalmar pointed to the 25% of male teachers at Almont Middle School and about 50% at the high school.
Fewer women, too
"I'm not as worried about a shortage of male teachers as I am a shortage of good, high-quality teachers in general," Kalmar said. "Michigan has a teacher shortage, especially in specific areas such as the sciences and foreign languages."
Cameron agreed that filling the need for outstanding teachers, regardless of their gender, is integral for Michigan to re-establish itself as a regional and national leader.
"This isn't simply a male or female issue," Cameron said. "The numbers of both men and women pursuing teaching careers has been steadily declining."
As evidence of this troubling trend, Cameron noted that enrollment levels in the teaching programs at most major Michigan colleges and universities are down dramatically.
He cited the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where teacher program numbers fell by 42% and Michigan State University, which has experienced a 45% decline in students wishing to pursue a career in education.
Similar declines were reported by Eastern Michigan University, 37%; Western Michigan University, 62%; and U-M-Flint, 40%.
The only Michigan college to buck the trend was Central Michigan University, which saw an increase of 6%.
"Education Week recently ran an article detailing the results of a comprehensive study that revealed that teaching is now considered an undesirable career," Cameron noted. "That is primarily based on the profession's perceived lack of autonomy and low wages.
"I would concur that these are leading reasons," he continued. "Though I also believe the profession has been devalued by segments of society over the past 15-20 years.
"For some reason, teachers have become an easy target and frequent scapegoat for problems that are outside their control," said Cameron. "I believe these factors have made the profession less appealing to both young men and women.
"There has been a general erosion of respect for the teaching profession," he added. "I've witnessed this in my 25-year career."
Kalmar agreed that public school teachers are often held responsible for the failings of American society.
"Our teachers and schools have been unjustly pilloried by both sides of the political spectrum," said Kalmar. "Especially by our Michigan Legislature.
"The politicians and some of the media have turned what was one of the noblest pursuits in our society," he continued, "into a career option that our younger generation is avoiding."
Cameron noted that such criticisms come at a time when incoming teachers are receiving reduced retirement benefits, decreased health care options and fewer perks.
Meanwhile, they are subject to "increased and sometimes "unrealistic" accountability standards set forth by the state and federal governments.
"Our teachers are inundated with mandates, reporting procedures and questionable accounting measures; all of which have increased exponentially in recent years," Cameron said.
As a result, Cameron said there is less stability and security in the profession today than there was 20 years ago.
"All the while, teachers also face unprecedented government intrusion and incumbrances, limiting their time and ability to teach," he said.
Cameron alluded that the existing governmental overreach and diminished local control of school districts contributes heavily to a "less-than-optimal" environment for teachers.
"The teacher shortage is a very serious problem," he said. "But I believe it is the result of a very calculated effort to strip the profession of its appeal.
"Many went into teaching for the benefits, security and personal rewards as much as the wages," he continued. "You strip away tenure and health insurance—and wages remain stagnant— why would anyone want to teach?
"Less respect and less reward results in fewer men, fewer women and fewer minorities going into the teaching profession," Kalmar concluded.
Cameron said the fact that fewer men and fewer minorities are entering the profession is a matter that has been broached by the Imlay City School Board.
"There is emerging dialogue about the male/female imbalance at the national and state levels, which usually runs concurrently with discussion about the lack of minorities entering the profession," said Cameron "I have raised these issues in our district. Particularly in light of research that suggests there is a clear need for more positive male and minority role models in schools."
Who are the teachers?
Despite the myriad challenges today's teachers encounter, Cameron said those entering the profession do so with added passion and commitment.
"Every teacher with whom I work could be successful in any number of other careers," said Cameron. "The main draw the profession still has, above all others, is the value and reward of helping children learn and grow.
"People currently in the system or those arriving at the door are here out of a genuine passion to teach and to help children be successful," he continued. "They believe in being positive forces in the lives of our children.
"They still enter the teaching profession because they love kids and because they want to devote themselves to being a part of the teaching and learning process."
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.