Why do we encourage women to become engineers but we don’t encourage men to become teachers?

By: Kate Ringer

Let’s set something straight: I have wanted to be a teacher for a long time, longer than I can remember. At first I thought I’d want to teach elementary, but once I made it to high school I knew that I had found my home in my English classrooms. Plus, I’ve always loved school, as school is where I could succeed.

This is important.

I love good teachers, and I recognize that this gives me a fair amount of bias while writing this article. I’m trying to fight it, but I know I have failed.

In junior high and high school, I was constantly bombarded with messages about the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). This is a focus that has been adopted across the country, as STEM careers are seen as the careers that move our country forward. It seemed like there were constantly opportunities for women in my school to learn about engineering and other math and science fields and to meet with women who worked in those professions. However, I never took advantage of these opportunities because I’m just not interested in being an Engineer or a Chemist; I want to be a teacher. I have no doubt that if I applied myself, I could succeed in a STEM career. I just don’t want to.

With this constant educational emphasis in getting more women in STEM careers, I started to feel judged for not pursuing STEM. Not only that, but I started to feel like people were judging me for my desire to become a teacher specifically, as if teaching was a career that I was too smart for (another way of saying this is that only people who are less intelligent or academically successful should become teachers).  I started to feel judged by feminists, because teaching is a job that is historically made up of women. Now that I am studying Education here at the U of I, I am constantly hearing about the importance of having good teachers. But when this message is running in conjunction with the idea that if students are smart, they should do something “better,” it doesn’t really encourage people to join the field. Not to mention educators’ extremely low salaries considering they are required to have a bachelor’s degree and the hostile political climate surrounding the profession, as well as a coinciding low status in society.

Women make up 24% of the workforce in STEM careers. Does that number surprise you? Considering the huge amount of educational focus and national attention that this issue receives, I was surprised that the percentage was even that high. Ideally, it would be about 47%, as that is the percentage of the workforce that women make up, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. In contrast, men make up 21% of teachers grade K-12, even though they make up 53% of the workforce. It appears that we have a crisis on our hands.

I’ve already discussed the lack of respect that our society as a whole has for teachers. Research has found that status and sexism are the top two contributors to the Teacher Gender-Gap. Many men are afraid that if they become teachers, they will be seen as less masculine. Men are also encouraged to be the “breadwinner” of their family, and that simply isn’t possible with a teacher’s salary. What’s sad is that our educational system is working towards getting more women into the STEM fields to get rid of the stereotype that men are better at math and science than women are, but they are not working at all to give male students the opportunity to explore careers in education. Both STEM fields and education suffer for lack of diversity.  

I believe that the stereotypes about teachers need to be discarded, as well as our attitudes about gendered careers in general,  and society needs to reconsider the importance of having diverse, intelligent educators. There needs to be a higher incentive for men and women to become teachers, and they should be respected as one of the most important professions in our society. Getting more women into STEM careers should be a priority, but it shouldn’t be the only priority. I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed for being smart and not choosing STEM; I shouldn’t have to feel like I am letting people down. No one should be forced into a profession that is wrong for them, and educating male and female students about the opportunities they have for success in any field should be our priority. Feminism is about freeing our world of gendered prejudices that hurt everyone.

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