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CELEBRATE! profile: Ben Smith '09

After switching majors from business to elementary education, Ben Smith '09 realized he would be a minority in his field. The questions he would ask led to his senior thesis, “The Difference in the Experiences of Male and Female Beginning Elementary School Teachers,” to be presented April 28 at SURF. His work is the latest in a weeklong series of E-net profiles to spotlight Elon undergraduate research during CELEBRATE! 2009.

“Everyone was telling me it was so great to have a male in elementary education, but why was it so great?” said Ben Smith '09, who used those questions as the basis for undergraduate research to be presented this week on differences between beginning male and female elementary school teachers.

“Everyone was telling me it was so great to have a male in elementary education, but why was it so great?” asks the Chagrin Falls, Ohio, native. “Was I being educated the same as the females in my classes? Was I at a disadvantage or an advantage because I was male?”

Smith also presented his research this month at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. His findings are based on interviews with female and male beginning elementary school teachers, and from scouring existing research, which uncovered several major themes.

Those themes included the reasons for joining the field, preparedness, experiences with administrators, additional responsibilities, relationships with fellow teachers, the role of a teacher, classroom management, teaching philosophy, experiences with students’ parents and future plans.

Specific questions addressing gender were left to the end of the interviews.

“The objective of the interviews was to gain an idea of their whole experience as beginning teachers without looking at it through the lens of gender,” Smith says. “Then, we compared how they were different.”

Some themes produced no differences between males and females, while others produced slight differences and still others significant differences, including the reasons for joining the profession, the role of the teacher, classroom management and teaching philosophy.

For example, women cited role models, such as their mothers or other female teachers, for inspiring them to join the field. Men, on the other hand, said the encouragement of others who said they had a talent for teaching or were “good with kids” was what prompted them to pursue teaching.

The primary conclusion of the research, Smith said, is that “when you mix the unique experience of a male teacher and the unique experience of a beginning teacher, you get a completely different experience.”

Smith’s thesis adviser, assistant professor of education Richard Mihans, has conducted research on the recruitment and retention of K-12 teachers throughout his career. He believes Smith’s research has the potential to be published, and that further study on the topic could offer significant contributions to the field of teacher education.

“This research is master’s quality. I’m thrilled and amazed at what Ben has done,” Mihans says. “Some of the things he’d find or the conclusions he made were things I hadn’t thought of, and that’s the true nature of collaborative research.”

- Written by Kristin Simonetti in the Office of University Relations

Eric Townsend,
4/30/2009 12:08 PM