A woman's world?

by Ashley Rhodebeck - Beloit Daily News in Beloit, WI - USA

Males rare in education's early grades

A teacher like Tom Hamlett is hard to find.

No, the education veteran doesn't perform crazy stunts to get his students' attention, nor does he use a revolutionary teaching method.

So, what sets Hamlett apart from his fellow teachers?

He's male.

Even rarer, he's a man teaching elementary students.

Although the School District of Beloit's student body is nearly equal in boys (50.5 percent) and girls (49.5 percent), its staff is overwhelmingly female.

Last year, women composed 78.9 percent of staff while men accounted for 21.1 percent of employees, which includes teachers, administrators and service persons, according to a 2005-06 Affirmative Action Report.

A significant number of men worked at Beloit Memorial High School last year, just 58 fewer than the 140 female employees, but males became sparse as the grades decreased. Only 41 men worked at the district's 12 elementary schools, which averages 3.4 men per school. As few as one worked at Burdge; at most, nine staffed McLenegan.

District staff were unable to say why fewer men choose to teach younger students, but ventured some guesses.

"I think a lot of people probably figure younger kids need patience and nurturing," Hamlett said. "I personally feel some men feel they can't provide that and like the challenge of older kids."

Beloit Memorial science teacher John McClelland said he wanted to work with older students because the subject he wanted to teach, biology, is taught in high school.

Having male teachers is important for children, especially those without a strong father figure at home, Director of Operations Ron Nortier said. And he should know; he spoke from experience.

"My favorite teacher of all time was my fifth grade teacher who was a man, and I had lost my father when I was in second grade," Nortier said. "It was very helpful to me as a youngster growing up to have a male teacher."

Hamlett, who has taught first through sixth grades, said single mothers have requested their child have him as a teacher so they can have a positive male role model.

The district doesn't employ many males because the pool of candidates has been primarily women. However, within the past couple of years it seems as though more young men are joining the field, Nortier said, noting he has also seen a number of men switching to teaching as a second or third career after they've discovered that's where their heart lies.

Hamlett, a third grade teacher at McLenegan, made such a discovery. When he enrolled in college some 30-plus years ago, he didn't set out to enter the education field. Instead, Hamlett focused on accounting classes because he enjoyed math and numbers.

As his fourth year came to an end, Hamlett was a semester shy of graduating and in need of a summer job. After some persuasion by friends, he accepted a counselor position at a boys camp, and it was there Hamlett realized he truly enjoyed working with 8- to 10-year-olds. He pursued elementary education after finishing his accounting degree.

Now, in his 33rd and final year of teaching, Hamlett couldn't be happier with his career choice.

"I'm happy with what I'm doing," he said. "You never know what's going to happen."

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