Ryan McAdoo doesn't believe he's different from any other kindergarten teacher.
"I follow the same protocols and objectives that they focus on," he said.
But the simple truth is, McAdoo is different, simply by virtue of being a man who teaches at a grade level that traditionally has been, and continues to be, an almost exclusively female profession.
For the most part, he says, students and parents respond favorably to him.
"I hear it mostly from the parents, how they're so happy that there's a male teacher and it's a good influence on their child," said McAdoo, who has been teaching at Hillcrest School in Lawrence since 2009. "I get a lot of parents telling me, especially if they're single moms, that it's just a nice thing to have."
According to figures from the Kansas State Department of Education, 89 percent of all the active elementary teaching licenses in Kansas are held by women. And while it it's difficult to break that down by specific grade levels, experts say the profession is even more heavily dominated by women at the early elementary levels.
"It's always been this way, especially with the younger ages," said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education at Kansas University. "it has to do with, to a certain degree, who takes care of the children. Women are more typically in these nurturing types of roles."
But while women hold the majority of teaching licenses overall in Kansas, especially at the elementary level, men still hold the majority of leadership and administration licenses — although women have been making significant inroads into those jobs.
"I think that probably reflects national data as well," Ginsberg said.
Need for male role models
In recent years, Ginsberg said, there has been a lot of discussion about the need for more male teachers in elementary school, because of the increasing number of children growing up in single-parent households where there are few adult male role models.
"There's a lot of talk about that, especially in the African-American communities," he said. "I think it's probably not so much a racial issue as a poverty-related issue, where there wouldn't be a male role model in the home."
Ginsberg said he has not yet seen any scientific data to show that more male teachers in elementary classrooms make a measurable difference in how students develop later in life.
But Lawrence school superintendent Rick Doll said he believes it does make a difference.
"I think it's important for our little boys to see males in teaching roles," Doll said. "But it's also important for our little girls, and we would see that as a priority in terms of trying to hire more males."
Other school districts apparently are trying to recruit more male teachers as well. Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said that when she speaks to education students, she tells them that a man going into elementary education will probably be hired before a woman applying for the same job.
Ginsberg said that KU also is trying to recruit more men into elementary teaching.
"We actively go out and recruit students, and we talk about the need for males primarily at the elementary level," he said "We have a very competitive process, and we do try to give males some advantages if they apply to get into the program. It's extra points, if you will, in what is a fairly competitive process for us."
Men still hold most upper-level jobs
One thing that does appear to be changing, however, is an increase in the number of women moving into leadership and administrative roles.
Although data from the state show men still hold the majority of those jobs — 58 percent — officials say that represents significant progress for women.
"The number of women in the administrative roles — and I always look at the superintendent numbers — has been increasing gradually, but fairly constantly, over the last 25 years," Doll said.
Doll and others say that's because the traditional route to becoming a superintendent ran through the principal's office — and in particular, a high school principal's office, which has also been a male-dominated field.
"I think the old traditional route — and I don't think this was a positive thing — was coach, athletic director, principal, superintendent," Doll said. "You have to remember, back in the 1970s, there weren't even any female athletic teams, and so that whole coach-A.D.-principal route, that was exclusively male."
But that pattern has been changing, albeit slowly, largely because of changing attitudes about the role of a school principal.
"As the term 'instructional leader' has become more prevalent," Doll said, "I think that's opened up the door for some of our outstanding female teachers to become outstanding female principals."