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Missing Men
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Jeff Johnson is a rare find - he teaches music at East Newton Elementary.

According to National Education Association statistics, the number of male teachers is at a 40-year low. Less than a quarter of the nation's 3 million teachers are men, and only 9 percent of elementary school teachers are men. The percentage of male elementary school teachers peaked in 1981 at 18 percent.

This year the Newton County School System hired 271 teachers new to the district. Only 59 were men - the same percentage, less than one quarter, as the nation.

Johnson, a public school teacher of nine years, said the shortage of male teachers is more of a detriment to the students than a challenge to the teachers.

"I do believe that a good healthy balance of gender would serve to improve an already great work environment as well as improve the educational opportunities for the kids," Johnson said.

The lack of male teachers does not provide a healthy balance in Johnson's eyes.

"Absentee fathers at home only compound that lack of positive male influence in a child's life."

Jeff Cher taught high school math for nine years and is now in his first year as assistant principal at Veterans Memorial Middle School.

"I don't see any challenge based on gender," Cher said. "We have many challenges in education from social, economic and political forces though."

He said teacher quality is not a reflection of gender, but rather of a teacher's dedication to student and personal learning.

Mike Hamner has taught in middle and high schools for 30 years; he is currently at Alcovy High.

Hamner had a rough home life growing up because of an alcoholic parent.

"School, teachers and especially a couple of my coaches were there to rescue me," Hamner said. "They helped make my life better, and I knew by the seventh grade that I wanted to do the same."

He has regularly worked two or three jobs at a time to support his family because a teacher's salary couldn't make ends meet and said financial concerns often deter men - who feel they have to be the bread-winners - from entering careers in education.

"I have heard men on the golf course talk about teaching like it is a very degrading job for a man," Hamner said.

In addition to the salary factor, Hamner believes many men do not have the patience or temperament it requires to teach.

Hamner has a daughter who became a teacher, but his son said he could not deal with students who behave like he did. His son is also a successful business man with a six-figure salary.

He said the main challenge of being a male in a profession dominated by women is constantly being assigned extra duties.

Male teachers are often asked to move heavy objects, stand on restroom duty for boys or work bus duty. While teaching on the middle school level, Hamner kept students in line on their way to the buses for 14 consecutive years in three different school systems.

Jared Hamby is just starting his career as an educator. He teaches seventh grade language arts at Cousins Middle School.

Hamby's mother and other members of his family were teachers. Growing up he heard stories of how his mother had made a difference in the community or in a student's life and he wanted to do the same.

"Another reason is that I had only one male teacher from kindergarten to eighth grade - Mr. Mincey at Eastside Transitional School (now Eastside High) - and he was the greatest teacher and person I had ever met," Hamby said.

He said he is too green in the profession to know what the challenges of male educators are.

"I think it's strange that so many more women teach than men," Hamby said. "I don't really know why that is, but I know that throughout school and even college, I greatly appreciated the men teachers and professors with whom I had classes."

Johnson, Cher, Hamner and Hamby all agreed that male role models are needed in all levels of education for male and female students' well rounded educations.

"If the number of teachers is at a 40-year low, it is a shame," Cher said. "Education is an extremely rewarding profession - we have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the future on a daily basis.

"Seeing students learn, grow and mature is truly an amazing joy."