Do Catholic Elementary Schools Need More Male Teachers?

Approximately 11 percent of teachers at Catholic elementary schools are male (including priests and brothers), and in a recent piece on The Washington Post’s  “On Faith” blog, guest contributor Mark Judge argues that this number is far too low. He writes:

“This imbalance is terrible for a Church that is still stumbling through a sex abuse crisis and fighting a secular culture that grows increasingly misogynistic…. The damage done by the abusive priests and the bishops who moved them from parish to parish has given the impression that the men who are leaders in the Catholic Church are duplicitous at best and iniquitous at worst. In order to get over this, the Church not only needs penance - she needs men in the schools who show children a model of male moral strength.”


His conclusion?: "The Catholic schools of Washington should hire me -- because I'm a man."

It’s a bit more complicated than that, as simply increasing the number of male teachers won’t heal wounds from the sex-abuse crisis, but I can certainly see value in having positive, Catholic male role models for young boys in school settings. And some have argued, not unconvincingly, that, for students growing up fatherless homes, a male teacher may be a much-needed influence.

Judge, a long-time substitute, then writes about his own struggle to find full-time work as a teacher.:

“A priest friend of mine agrees who runs a well-known parish in DC agrees [sic]. I went to see him a couple weeks ago, to ask him why I kept getting turned down for teaching jobs, and why they always seemed to go to women. He told me he himself was frustrated about it, and that I should write to the bishop. The priest and I had a man-to-man talk, as it were, which points to the other, perhaps more abstract, problem that the man shortage reveals: woman and men have a different rapport with children.”

Judge argues that men can promote a “Catholic feminism” and uses as an example his ability to more convincingly tell boys of the value of women’s basketball (“Not only is it a sport, it's a lot more interesting than men's basketball. Men's basketball has become a lot of dunking. In women's basketball there is strategy, jump-shots, thinking.”) because he is a man.

Judge’s point about the value of his influence is a difficult one to prove, but even if, in this instance, we assume he’s right, being a mentor does not necessarily qualify a person to be an educator. And when the job market for teachers is the most competitive it’s been in decades, employers must consider more than just gender. According to Valerie Strauss, who writes for another Washington Post blog, The Answer Sheet, “There is no definitive research that male students—or female students, for that matter—learn better from a particular gender.” To hire men simply because they are men would only perpetuate the very sense of superiority and entitlement among some males that Judge argues he is working to prevent. A male perspective in the classroom could be valuable for boys, but, ideally, this perspective will come from a well-qualified, emotionally mature man—one who can not only offer advice on inbound plays, but I.E.P.s as well. (I mean this as a general statement, not as a critique or criticism of Mr. Judge’s own qualifications, skills or background as an educator, about which I know only what he mentions in his essay.) I think a more productive solution than asking for a bishop’s intervention is for Judge to encourage other men to train for and pursue teaching careers. Schools will always have a hard time hiring men if so few actually apply for jobs.

Judge concludes his argument with a statement he acknowledges as incendiary:

“Kids, who any teacher will tell you are the greatest BS detectors in the world, can tell when they are being propagandized and when someone is speaking from the heart. And if it is a man to boys, the message will take more often than not. It sound terrible, it may run me out of polite society, but I think that when boys spend all day every day listening to women, they do what girls do when boys go on and on about cars or sports. They stop listening.”

I can understand why certain types of advice and life lessons will mean more to young boys if that counsel comes from a man. There’s value in that. But if I want to learn as much as possible about a topic, I want the most knowledgeable person to teach me. Male or female. By conflating a child’s desire for positive role models with a child’s desire to learn, Judge degrades both boys and girls. Sure, these desires are intertwined, but the implication that this connection permeates a child’s mind to such a degree that a young boy would rather tune out a talented, interesting female teacher than hear about the same topic from any man is extreme. Would boys really rather stop learning about a fascinating subject than listen to a well-qualified woman talk about it?

I am a woman with an interest in both cars and sports, and I am lucky enough to have parents knowledgeable about both. From my father, I've received lessons in how to change the oil on my ’93 Camry. But I don’t discuss with him whether Formula 1 racecar drivers Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton will win the next Grand Prix. For that I give my mom a call. I listen closely to what she has to say, and I appreciate her example as a strong, confident woman. But I don’t listen because she’s a woman. I listen because she knows a heck of a lot about sports.

More than anything, elementary school-age children need well-educated, well-qualified teachers, of any gender, who are willing to care for them, protect them and make learning interesting, no matter the topic. I agree with Mr. Judge when he writes, “Catholic kids need to see men who would go to their own death rather than see harm come to a child.” But I’d argue that, if the current teachers are doing their job, the students at Catholic schools should have heard about at least one man willing to give up his own life for the sake of others. And, if the lessons are taken to heart, the children will see Him, every day, in the faces—man or woman, boy or girl—of everyone they meet.

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charles jordan
9 years 12 months ago
1) There is a gender bias towards female teachers in Catholic schools. The bias is a form of bigotry which of course is unjust. Thus, it makes sense that qualified male teachers be hired until gender equity is attained.
2) Most children work well with most teachers, except when they don't. A good principal knows that not all children are in the bell curve. Knowing that gender can be a stumbling block in the learning process for some of the children, it makes sense to side step the problem by having a faculty composed of both genders.
3) Not all teachers an be all things to all students. It makes sense to hire teachers with diverse background, skills, and yes genders so that no child is sidelined or becomes detached from the learning process.
Chris Duckworth
9 years 12 months ago
I am a Lutheran pastor at a medium-sized congregation, and I struggle to recruit men to teach in our Sunday School ministry.  It's not just a Catholic Schools issue, and it's not just a Roman Catholic issue ... Heck, in my daughter's public school, a very large majority of the teachers are women, too.  Education of children has, for better or worse, been pegged in our society largely as the work of women.  And this is sad.  As a father and a pastor, I want our children - boys and girls - to see nurturing men active in their lives who are willing and able to teach, play, counsel, and otherwise care for our children within (and beyond!) the ministry of the church.
Dorian Speed
9 years 12 months ago
I think part of the issue with the male/female discrepancy in teacher hiring is related to teacher pay, which I realize is a entirely new, infinitely contentious discussion. But men who may wish to be the primary or sole breadwinner for their families are less likely to enter the field of teaching when they could potentially earn more in other careers. And my limited experience has been that Catholic school teacher salaries are lower than those in public schools.
The one in ten applicants figure doesn't strike me as inaccurate. I think it's sad, and that there is value in children having male teachers, but I don't think it's surprising.
Dorian Speed
9 years 12 months ago
I'm not sure if this is the case across the board, but at the Catholic school at which I taught, teacher salaries were tied very closely to enrollment. So the salary issue is part of a larger concern with recruiting students for Catholic schools - how to attract students, which "bells and whistles" to offer in terms of extracurricular opportunities, AP classes, etc., and how to maintain the Catholic identity of the school. And then as tuition increases to fund the salaries and the football field and the computer lab, many Catholic families can't afford to send their kids.
Hmmm. Not to be negative, or anything. 
9 years 12 months ago
Public school teachers make an average of $100,000 a year and another $30,000 a year in benefits where I live in the Northeast.  This and the public sectors unions are what is bankrupting a lot of the country.  Catholic school teachers do not make anywhere close to this and the cost to keep up is what has led many Catholic schools to close.
There are a lot of recently retired public school teachers in their late 50's and early 60's around here who are getting close to six figures or more for doing nothing.  So it has become a very sought after job for essentially 9 months work every year.
Vince Killoran
9 years 12 months ago
For the most part, Catholic schools do not offer competitive salaries. Public school teachers are not overpaid.
When some Catholic school teachers in Detroit started talking about unionizing their workforce in the 1980s they were fired.
9 years 12 months ago
It won't be just pay and prestige that will need a makeover if the Church wants to attract more men into teaching.  The career path of an educator will have to be considered as well:
Marie Rehbein
9 years 12 months ago
It is all about the salaries that teachers get.  It may be that some in the Northeast make a lot, but it is longevity pay, not merit pay.  While Catholic school might be more desireable than public school because of the teaching environment-student behavior, parent involvement, freedom to talk religion-pay in the Catholic schools my children have attended was only half that of entry level pay in public schools, making it a reasonable career choice only for those who don't need to support a family.
Jim McCrea
9 years 12 months ago
I think young boys in general need better male role models and mentors than musical thugs, sports "heroes", street gangs, etc.
In the interest of improving the lot of girls and women, boys have become collateral damage way too often.  The seeds of this terrible error are now coming home to roost in society, and it ain't purty.
Bill Youngpeter
9 years 11 months ago
I teach at a catholic school, there are 35+ women and me.  I rasied a lot of kids and sometimes treat the kids here as my own.  Emails always start off "Ladies", etc. it gets old pretty quick.  The kids do seem to like having a male figure around the building, many of them comment that they have had all women for everything since Kindergarten (art, physed, music, you name it, all women).  The affect on me is no one to speak man to man to, it's a different world inside this place.


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