Cotton Academy Elementary School teacher Adam Rodriguez works with his students on a literature assignment.
Cotton Academy Elementary School teacher Adam Rodriguez works with his students on a literature assignment. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In Paul Perea’s 21st year of teaching, he needs both hands to count the number of schools where he’s been on staff. The Arnold Elementary School music teacher has worked in San Antonio Independent School District elementary schools throughout his career, often being one of the only male teachers on campus.

“It has been myself and a coach and that’s basically been it, and that’s what I’m used to,” Perea said. “When I started, I think I broke the mold.”

Male teachers make up less than 24 percent of the teaching profession statewide and less than 30 percent of the staffs of most of Bexar County’s 15 school districts. The majority of male educators are concentrated in middle and high schools, and many elementary schools continue to see a shortage of male candidates, said Toni Thompson, SAISD associate superintendent of human resources.

Education advocates and district recruiters have said the lack of men in the teaching profession is especially problematic in San Antonio, where male role models are in short  supply and a large percentage of students grow up in households headed by single women.

In SAISD, approximately 40 percent of family households are made up of female householders without a spouse raising children younger than 18, according to 2010 census data. In Edgewood and South San ISDs, this portion of single-mother households is about the same.

Without a male presence in the home or in the classroom, boys face growing up without male role models.

“What I have noticed now in my 10 years of teaching experience is that it makes a difference on the cultural and social aspect,” Cotton Academy teacher Adam Rodriguez said. “[Where I’ve spent the majority of my career,] working mainly on the East Side, it is one of the poorest areas of the city and there are a lot of single-mother households. … I’m able to show them how to act as a man, thinking of how manners work and how to treat people.”

Pay and prestige

The dearth of male teachers doesn’t start with the hiring process; by the time students graduate from teacher preparation programs, the candidate pool is already largely female. No university or community college preparation program in San Antonio has more than 35 percent male students at the undergraduate level.

At the University of the Incarnate Word, just seven of the 113 undergraduate students – 6 percent – in its teaching programs are male.

Over time, the gender imbalance in teaching has not changed much. In 1995, men represented 22 percent of the teaching workforce. By 2017, that number had increased only 2 percentage points, according to data from the Texas Education Agency.

Part of that issue comes from the perception that being a teacher is women’s work, some educators say.

“San Antonio is a very traditional, blue-collar type of city, and there is still an underlying feeling that men are going to be the breadwinners,” said Mark Rustan, a human resource director and former elementary teacher in Northside ISD. “Sometimes there is the misnomer or the misconception that [teaching] doesn’t pay well.”

Sam Houston High School Band Director Bruce Adams thinks increasing the pay would benefit the profession in attracting a more diverse pool of candidates and would aid those currently employed.

Devoting more money to teacher salaries could be the best strategy to pique men’s interest in becoming an educator, although prestige is also important to consider, Thompson said.

“I don’t know if it is different in other countries, but while we may hear people talk about the importance of a good education and getting good teachers, I don’t think it is held up on the same pedestal that other professions experience,” Thompson said. “I think that is a big thing for men, who may not feel that is something that is going to bolster their status.”

Sam Houston High School Director of Bands Bruce Adams leads a rehearsal after school.
Sam Houston High School Band Director Bruce Adams leads a rehearsal after school. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Organizations like Teach for America are trying to build a higher level of esteem for teachers. TFA, which receives more than 40,000 applications for a few thousand two-year teaching spots in low-income neighborhoods, is seen as a selective program.

It is how Steven Cruz, now a fourth-year math teacher at Rhodes Middle School, came to SAISD. He originally majored in business but applied for a TFA position.

“When I saw TFA and how competitive it was to get in, and the higher level or higher tier of college graduates that they were seeking, it just really looked appealing,” Cruz said.

Now Cruz said he is realizing that it is hard to advance and grow in the profession. Whereas many of the friends he graduated with could be making a much higher salary 10 years out of college, Cruz said he will likely be making close to the same pay.

Creating a clear promotion ladder and better pay scale would attract more men, Cruz added.

Forging a pipeline

Music Teacher Paul Parrea (second from left) is flanked by fellow male educators teaching at Arnold Elementary School.
Music Teacher Paul Perea (second from left) is flanked by fellow male educators teaching at Arnold Elementary School. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The second-best way to recruit more men into teaching is having a plan in place to get them in the door and keep them in schools, Adams said.

School districts participating in recruiting fairs have to be intentional in what kind of candidates they want to attract. Patty Hill, Northside ISD assistant superintendent for human resources, said her district tries to send recruiters to events that look like the candidates they want to attract.

“We are going to take people with us so people can see that we want folks that look like our students, have the same experience as our students,” Hill said.

My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio is trying to get more men of color into teaching through a new initiative launched this summer. The MBKSA Education Partnership aims to enroll men of color and former athletes in a teacher certification program to produce more candidates.

The partnership pays for the certification program, which candidates started this year and hope to complete within two months. As candidates complete the program, they get jobs in San Antonio ISD and will be in the classroom before the end of this school year.

Lawrence Henderson, one of the original scholarship applicants, found out about the program through a news report. Henderson, 45, has spent the majority of his career in the military and working to improve mental health through a number of nonprofits in San Antonio.

After seeing information about the education partnership on TV, he quickly submitted an application and has been pursuing his certification through the Texas Teachers certification program. By November, he hopes to be leading his own classroom in SAISD.

“During my education and throughout high school, I only had one male teacher,” Henderson said. “I want students to have a perception of me – that if a man like Mr. Henderson can be successful, then so can I.”

Adams told the Rivard Report that beyond the deficiency in male teachers, there is an even greater dearth of men of color in the classroom. This is important to address because students of color often face the greatest challenges, he said.

“Nine times out of 10, it is the men of color who are really experiencing the majority of the absence of fatherhood, and it can become a revolving door,” Adams said. “Since they don’t have that male figure in their life, a lot of time they feel it is an excuse for them to do the same thing. I do see young men who look up to teachers and want to do the same thing as them.”

Community organizations bridge gap

Male teachers aren’t the only option for role models in young students’ lives. Young boys can look to other members in the community to guide them forward in life, but even there, there are few men stepping up for mentorship.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas (BBBS), about 70 percent of the children seeking mentors are boys, but 70 percent of the willing volunteers are women. President and CEO Denise Barkhurst said her organization would prefer to not match across genders because there are certain things that young boys like to go to men for, and likewise for girls and women.

That’s why at the beginning of 2018, BBBS launched an initiative to get more willing male volunteers signed up by Father’s Day. To commemorate San Antonio’s Tricentennial Year, the goal was set at 300 potential big brothers. When June 17 arrived, BBBS had reached its target, but just barely.

At 100 Black Men of San Antonio, a mentorship organization for black boys in the community, Executive Director Milton Harris has seen the same problem. The organization has 33 members and 55 volunteer mentors but wants to recruit more men.

The organization started a campaign last fall to recruit 40 more mentors in 40 days and exceeded its goal, Harris said. But without that outreach effort, the same men may not have joined the organization.

“I think mentoring is just really not exposed to a lot of men,” Harris said. “We have to create more ways to make men aware and show them how they can get involved.”

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.