By SIA CHOKSHI ‘21, SAMHITHA SANGARAJU ‘22, HANNAH STEINLAUF ‘22, and KATHLEEN ZHOU ‘21
Just as Women’s History Month is overlooked, teachers are too. We could not take the responsibility of writing a Features section on the successes and grievances of women without talking about the profession women dominate. Four female students sit down to write this article, one of whom aspires to pursue a career in teaching. Throughout our entire school careers, we have been surrounded by female teachers in the classroom. But our principals have been overwhelmingly male, our superintendents too. To teach is to mold our future generation, to educate those still finding their way into the world. Teaching is just as important as supervising and administrating, if not more so. However, due to society’s internalized sexism, women are continually encouraged to pursue these jobs, while men are told to aim higher.
At Edison High School, teachers are paid well. Surely, this incentive should lure both male and female teachers. Yet, despite this high salary, 66 percent of EHS teachers are women. And this imbalance between male and female teachers will not remedy itself any time soon: We have seen our teachers encourage men with an aptitude for learning to pursue STEM fields (Edison High’s Technology department has a staggering 0% of women), or to practice law, or to find a job in trade. Yet when women love to learn, they’re encouraged into a different profession: teaching.
And this problem is not unique to EHS. Passionate men are advised to go into medicine, or law, or business—yet, passionate women are told to become a teacher and help the future. As important as teaching is, is that the only way societies see women’s effects on the future?
For example, look at your schedules and consider this: how many of your teachers this year are female? What about last year? How about in elementary school—do you remember having a male teacher then? We see them as gym teachers, as choir conductors, as band directors; otherwise, male elementary school teachers are unicorns, like perfect attendance.
Why is this the case?
Why do men shy away from teaching, and why do women embrace it? Why are 76% of teachers nationwide female, with a shocking 89% of female teachers in elementary schools? The differences by department are also jarring. The English department is 91 percent female, and Foreign Language sits at 76 percent, both surprisingly high numbers.
These are questions that many ask, but few answer.
From a young age, society pushes women into the role of nurturer. They task sisters with babysitting their younger siblings, they teach women to cook and bake for their families, and they expect daughters to exhibit maturity and emotional stability (lest they be dubbed “crazy” or “on her period”). Society forces women to continually care for those around them and teaches them to care for others before they can even learn to care for themselves. This push to selflessness may seem beneficial at first, but in reality, it forces women to become objects––props that other people use to empower themselves.
From the beginning of their school careers, young girls are surrounded by women teachers. They see their teachers as role models, and recognize teaching as an accessible career path. They see women who love their jobs as teachers, and these women push any student who shows an interest in learning into pursuing any aspirations to teach.
There’s no coincidence that society pushed women into teaching in the first place, either. Teaching was historically viewed as a practical job, as women had both weekends and summers off, and often worked while their children were in school, returning home the same time they did. In this aspect, society valued the convenience of having women be teachers. Teaching, when it first opened up to women in the late 19th century, was regarded as a “simple” job compared to the factory work most middle-class husbands did. A woman could easily take a day off of teaching to care for her children, whereas her lawyer, doctor, mechanic, or otherwise “essential” husband could not. From then on, teaching was geared toward women, forcing pregnancy leave and a low wage, which was often used as “vacation money.” In essence, a job as a teacher in the 19th century was regarded as an insignificant task, and thus, held a menial position, as opposed to the husband’s more “important work.” Back then, women could do a day’s worth of work and still be home to have dinner on the table for their “laboring” husbands.
Though the pay, workload, and relative importance of teaching have changed in recent years, societies’ ill view of teachers has not. Society prods prospective teachers:
“Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”
“You’re a very smart girl, you could do and make so much more!”
“You know, there’s more to life than school.”
These phrases are just a few that throw students off the track of teaching. Why? Despite all the advancements in education, teaching is not seen as a respectable profession for students, especially for men. Society discourages men who wish to go into teaching; “aim higher, become a principal,” society tells them. Even though teachers undertake the demanding task of shaping young minds, they don’t earn a quarter of the credit they deserve. The fact that education is a female–dominated field also contributes to that lack of credit.
To examine this predicament, we can look no further than our own school building, where a majority of our teachers are female. Even Edison High’s “Future Teachers” club, run by Family and Consumer Science teacher Ms. Kathleen Hendricks, is composed of all women, with no male students as current members. It is important to note that the Family and Consumer Science Department is also made up of 100 percent of women.
So what must we do? What must we, as a community, as a society, do to fix this problem? We must encourage our male counterparts to pursue teaching. We must create an environment where teaching is a respected profession, in which women are not only embraced, but appreciated. As students, we can only do so much, but the administration, families and community which surround us should make the effort to inspire male students to pursue teaching and increase public perception of teachers as a whole.
Teachers inspire young minds. Teachers are the future. If you want a future, you need to support and respect these dedicated individuals who help shape children’s minds.