LES mirrors trend for male teachers
Lansing Elementary School music teacher Ryan Rothmeyer has challenged a group of first-graders to name the eight reindeer that help Rudolph pull Santa's sleigh.
Giggles fill the air as the children anticipate their reward - a chorus of holiday songs they will sing if they complete the task.
Within minutes, the students have answered the call and Rothmeyer begins strumming his guitar.
Rothmeyer accompanies the students as they sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and everyone smiles.
Soon Rothmeyer leads the students around the room in a figure 8 as they skip, dance and rejoice in song.
It's difficult to know who's having more fun - the teacher or his students - but this is clear: Rothmeyer is in his element.
Rothmeyer didn't expect he would end up teaching elementary students, but he has no complaints.
"Kids are fun. My initial plan was to be a high school band director, and I think when a lot of guys major in music education that's what they want to do, and I wanted to do that until I came to this school and did my student teaching," he said. "I just almost immediately knew this is where I wanted to be educationally, at least for now."
Rothmeyer has taught music at LES for seven years. He is one of only three male teachers at the school out of a staff of 26 classroom teachers and six teachers that specialize in music, art and physical education. That means males represent just 9.4 percent of the school's teaching staff.
In a study released by the National Education Association in November, statistics show national numbers are in line with LES, indicating 9 percent of elementary school teachers nationwide are males.
The report also said the percentage of male teachers in elementary schools has been on the decline every year since 1981, when it reached an all-time high of 18 percent. Nationwide, the number of male teachers in all grades hit a 40-year low in 2005 with men comprising 24.5 percent of the country's 3 million public school teachers.
Rothmeyer said he thought the major obstacle standing in between male teachers and the classroom was money.
"Even more now because our society has become more materialistic, I think males are mainly driven to make money. Teaching is really not a high-paying job," he said. "I think raising the bar for teacher expectations and then raising salaries would make a big impact on getting more males in here."
At Lansing Intermediate School, males represent an even slimmer margin of the school's teaching staff - a mere 5.6 percent - with only one male on a staff of 14 classroom teachers and four teachers that specialize in music, art and physical education.
LIS principal Jan Jorgensen agreed that low salaries made it difficult to attract males to the teaching profession.
"If they are in elementary (education), they don't seem to stay very long," she said. "They want to go on and be a principal or coach. A lot of them are interested in coaching" to supplement their income.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the money. It's hard to keep them," she said.
In the Lansing School District, the base salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree is $32,333.
LES principal Tim Newton said the education field was up against tough competition from government agencies and private corporations, especially among the specialty fields of science, math and special education.
"If I graduate from KU or K-State with a math degree, am I gonna take a job for $30,000 at a school, or am I gonna go to work for Sprint and make 45 (thousand) or $50,000? That's the reality," he said.
A NEED FOR ROLE MODELS
Newton, who began his education career as a teacher at Grandview Plaza Elementary School in Junction City, taught half-day kindergarten and first, fourth and fifth grades for eight years there before becoming principal at LES.
"I only taught first grade for a year, and it was probably the best year I had : It was very rewarding watching the kids begin to read. They came to school all excited," he said. "I never had a bad day."
Newton said there is a great benefit for students to have male teachers.
"Teachers are role models," he said. "There are a number of kids who don't have a father figure in their lives, and I think that could fill those gaps by having a positive male role model in their lives."
Gender is not the only issue though. Another area where the teaching field has lagged behind - recruitment of minority teachers - also needs attention, Newton said.
"A more diverse staff would be beneficial for everybody whether it's having more male teachers or minority teachers on staff would be a positive," he said.
Rothmeyer said his experience had shown him that young boys especially need positive male role models.
"I think that males can have a tremendous impact," he said. "Just like a child needs a mother and a father. Students need male teachers and female teachers.
"I feel that at least half of my job is to help them develop as people and not just teach them music."