Sep. 25—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Stephanie Mino has taught at Ferndale Area Elementary for 27 years and during that time she's had three male colleagues at most, she said.
As of this school year, the trend continues with there being two male teachers out of almost 30 in the building, Mino said.
Historically, women have gravitated toward careers in education. Despite a growing teacher shortage, that remains true with more than 70% of all educators being female in the United States and Pennsylvania.
In the Cambria-Somerset region, there are hundreds more women in K-12 roles than men, although male administrators traditionally outnumber their female counterparts and do so in this area.
"We're all just kind of used to it," Alaina Pecora said. "That's the norm."
Pecora, 26, received her undergraduate degree in education from St. Vincent College and her master's from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and was hired at Cambria Heights High School for computer science.
She said that during her college classes, the female students often outnumbered the male students by a dozen or more, which is in line with the data.
According to Pennsylvania Department of Education data, Cambria County, had 1,204 teachers during the 2022-23 school year — 870 female (72%) and 334 male.
At the same time, there are 34 female administrators (40%) and 51 male district leaders.
In Somerset County that school year, there were 731 teachers — 555 female (76%) and 176 male, according to PDE, and 16 female (39%) to 25 male administrators.
In most case, the divides between female and male teachers and administrators have widened over the past decade.
During the 2012-13 school year, there were 1,237 teachers in Cambria County — 856 female (69%) and 381 male; 20 female administrators (25%) and 59 male. In Somerset County there were 750 teachers — 533 female (71%) and 217 male; 19 female administrators (39%) and 30 male.
'That dad figure'
Mino said she doesn't mind the predominantly female teaching atmosphere. She believes the group is often more cohesive that way.
However, Mino said she does wish there were more male teachers, especially because several young students don't have a father these days.
"I think that dad figure in the building would be helpful," she said.
As for why women dominate the education field, Mino said it could be because women are often viewed as nurturing, making the upbringing of children a natural career choice.
It could also be because there are so many female teachers that female students influenced by those role models follow in their footsteps.
Some reports have noted lower wages for educators compared to more male-dominated fields as another possible reason, and Mino wondered if summers off and many evenings free appealed to women who were interested in raising families.
Sara Rutledge, Mount Aloysius College education department chairwoman and professor, said historically teachers were men. However, that changed during the industrialization of the country — "leading men in new directions" and leaving many vacant positions.
That trend of women moving into education has continued for generations.
Rutledge said at the Mount, 82% of students in the education department identify as female with 18% identifying as male.
Nicole Dull, Conemaugh Township Area School District's superintendent, pointed out that traditional jobs of teenagers are babysitters and camp counselors — roles in which they watch over children — so it makes sense that they would pursue education as career options.
She said those positions bring out a nurturing side of people, although she also stated that "great educators" often have a significant impact on a person's decision to go into teaching.
'Nurturers by nature'
Pecora said she also thought it made sense for more women to go into teaching than men.
"I think it comes down to how females are by nature," she said. "We are nurturers by nature."
The computer science teacher provided the example that other "nurturing" jobs, such as nursing, are also typically a female-dominant career.
Comparatively, there are typically fewer women than men in the construction field, she said.
Pecora questioned with traditional gender roles in flux, she thinks there may be more men moving toward teaching than before.
Dull said when hiring at Conemaugh Township, the team looks for the best candidate, not a gender.
There are just not as many male teaching candidates, she said, and when those individuals are seeking employment, it's usually for subjects such as mathematics, social studies or science at the secondary level.
'K-12 glass ceiling'
Rutledge said there is still a "K-12 glass ceiling" for top administrative roles.
"Women outnumber men at every level of the PK-12 career ladder — except the superintendent's office," she said. "About 76% of the nation's K-12 educators are women. Yet, only 24% of superintendents are women."
Rutledge said the state needs to diversify the teacher workforce to be more representative of Black, Latino, Asian, Native American and LGBTQIA+ individuals.
The educators said what's kept them in teaching has been their devotion to the career and getting to "shape young minds."
Dull has dreamed of educating future generations since she was a youngster.
"As a child, I constantly played school," she said. "I enjoyed reading to my imaginary students, grading papers and explaining how to solve math problems. Teaching and guiding others has always been a passion."
She started at Conemaugh Township as a substitute in 1998 and was hired full-time the following year.
Since then, she has taught third grade, led the elementary as principal and decided to apply to be superintendent because she wanted to continue the "great things" going on in the district.
"I just think that we need to provide kids with opportunities and we need to help them to see what their strengths are," Dull said.
She continued: "Conemaugh Township is a special place full of experienced and dedicated teachers, staff and administration."
"People often point out the negative in the world, but I see administrators and teachers as the visionaries that help to promote the positive and remind students that a variety of great opportunities await them," Dull said.
Mino is just as passionate about education and has taught several elementary grades before transitioning into a mathematics specialist.
"I love making connections with the kids," she said, adding that helping young people understand that the work is "the best feeling ever."
Mino didn't start off in her post- secondary career as an educator but found her way there and couldn't imagine life any other way.
Pecora said she arrived at the decision to become a teacher during college.
She began her post-secondary career studying business, and as a sophomore at St. Vincent, she switched to education, led by her gift for tutoring and inspired by teachers she had in high school and college.
Pecora's older sister is also a teacher — teaching Spanish at Cambria Heights — and being able to talk with her about the profession helped.
Now, she's thrilled by the opportunity to "shape young minds," she said, and bridge the gap between computers and business.
"I think so far," Pecora said, "what I really love is seeing the students mature and grow."