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Elementary schools in need of male teachers

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Harrison teacher Jesse Goins with his 2nd graders Harrison teacher Jesse Goins with his 2nd graders

CHATTANOOGA  (WRCB)-   The numbers don't lie.  Young males have an increasing number of discipline issues in our schools.  It all starts at the elementary level, where boys as young as five years old are being suspended for drugs, alcohol, harassment and violence.  Many experts say boys need more male role models, but at the elementary level, male teachers are hard to find.  In Hamilton County, only 8 percent of elementary teachers are men.  That's below the national average of 12 percent, which is also considered low.

When fifteen students showed up for the first day of 2nd grade at Harrison Elementary, many wondered, "Where's our teacher?" And "Who is this man?"  Jesse Goins is part of a rare breed: a young man who wants to spend his entire workday with 7-year-olds.  He says he's filling a need.  "Boys need males today more than ever," he said.   Many of them don't have a positive male role model at home.  This is a good way to make an impact."

Goins wanted to be an elementary teacher from the time he was in 3rd grade. When his own parents divorced, he had a male 3rd grade teacher who helped fill a void in his life. Now he finds himself in that role for many of his students. Discipline, he says, is rarely a problem. "I don't think it's anything I do," he said.  "I think it's something they respond to unknowingly." He quickly adds, "That's nothing against female teachers, they do a great job and the discipline here is good.  But it's good to have diversity in all areas."

Having male teachers in an elementary school building is a luxury: some have none. Harrison principal Stacy Johnson is thrilled when she gets a qualified male applicant.  "I make sure we interview them," she said.  "Women outnumber male applicants at least four to one.  We are going to hire the best teacher, but if that teacher happens to be a man, it's a real bonus for the students." 

While acknowledging the positive impact of male teachers on little boys, she says it's more than just that.  "Sure, little boys need a male role model," she said. "But let's not forget, little girls like the father model as well."

The male/female teacher balance is slightly better at the middle school level, where 28 percent of Hamilton County teachers are male.  Brown Middle School teacher D. J. Omarkhail is among many who have chosen teaching as a second career.  In his mid-40s,  the former chaplain likens his work to a ministry, focusing on adolescent boys who need guidance.  He says many young men are frightened away from elementary and middle school teaching due to comparatively low pay, but they should instead focus on the positives.  "There's summer vacation and several school holidays," he said, "but on top of that, this is an age group where you can have a real influence on young people's lives.  There is nothing better than knowing that you've set a good example and helped a young man make a good choice or a good decision."

Another Brown Middle teacher, Ed Klopfer agrees.  The former TVA employee lost his job eleven years ago, making a mid-life shift into middle school teaching.  He says he has never looked back.  Admittedly a "father figure" to many young men, he says he has "the dad talk" with his students from time to time.  "I'll find out they misbehaved when I was out sick, and they didn't do their best work for a substitute teacher," he said.  "I look them right in the eye and let them know, they're capable of more than that, they let me down.  They really seem to take it to heart.  They don't want to disappoint me.  And they need to know that someone was counting on them.  They might not have the same expectations in their home life."

Administrators admit the money issue and the stigma of being an elementary teacher keep many young men out of the profession.   Hamilton County Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Stacy Stewart says she agrees that more men would be beneficial in elementary classrooms.  But for now, teachers like Jesse Goins are in short supply.  He hopes to influence others to follow his footsteps, put money issues aside, and reap a different kind of reward.

"You don't get into this for money, you know that up front," he said. "You get paid with more than money."

Contact David Carroll:  dcarroll@wrcbtv.com

On Twitter:  www.twitter.com/DAVIDCARROLL3

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