The Dilemma Of The Male Teacher

What do we expect from male teachers? In the Times Educational Supplement, Henry Hepburn reports on a research project that questions common assumptions about male teachers: that their mere presence can improve behavior; that boys desperately need them; and that they are somehow lacking if they do not race up the career ladder:

“The University of Strathclyde study also reveals some of the anxieties that bubble beneath the surface for men in primaries—some well recognized, others more surprising. They range from nervousness about public perceptions that male child abusers gravitate to schools, to discomfiture at being ‘mothered’ by female colleagues.

The research was led by education professor Geri Smyth, who has been intrigued by this topic since the mid-1990s when she became concerned about the number of male student primary teachers who did not complete their training.

She finds a paradox: on one hand, a ‘moral panic’ engendered by a media fixation with stories of pedophiles working in schools, no matter how rare they might be; on the other, the view of the male teacher as a pedagogical superman—i.e., ‘if we only had more men, all the problems of education would be solved.’

As Professor Smyth puts it: ‘Teaching in the primary classroom for males is fraught with contradictions.’

The research, by Professor Smyth and Dr Anna Piela, is drawn from a survey of 456 teachers—primary, secondary, male and female—and focus groups and interviews with 20 people ranging from students to heads.

The findings suggest that men, who make up 8 per cent of the primary teacher workforce [in Britain], are often viewed in terms of their inherent ‘male’ qualities rather than personal attributes, their ability to be a ‘role model’ rather than their caring qualities and ability to build relationships.

Younger men were frustrated at the common assumption they were naturally better-equipped to take charge of a particularly badly behaved class, or that they could organize a school event unaided.

And they are expected to be on a trajectory towards senior management from the start. If they are still class teachers well into their career, the view is, as Professor Smyth puts it, that “there must be something wrong with you.’” (Hepburn’s article is here, and the university’s description of the research project is here.)

I’d love to hear from male teachers out there—does any of this ring true to you? And of course I’d love to hear comments from female teachers, parents and students, too.

4 Responses to “The Dilemma Of The Male Teacher”

  1. wellevk says:

    As the wife of a male elementary school teacher, I’d say this describes some of my husband’s challenges in the workplace pretty well. Though I teach as well, he is MUCH more concerned about being accused of impropriety with students than I am. He takes many precautions to avoid even the appearance of inappropriate interactions (never closing the classroom door when alone with a single student in the room, extreme caution in addressing dress code violations with female students, etc.). I can give hugs to my students without fear. He can’t.

    He also finds the lack of male coworkers challenging at times. During lunches in the staff lounge he often zones out while the women around him discuss pregnancy-related concerns, shopping weekends, and other traditionally “female” topics. He’s not closed-minded, but sometimes yearns for a colleague who wants to talk about the NBA and not make-up.

  2. VE7CE says:

    There is a dearth of male teachers in the primary and elementary classes in my district, which creates the impression that these positions are for women. It leaves both boys and girls without a male role model. There is often a prejudice among teachers that somehow teaching in a high school is more demanding; which, in my observations, is untrue.

  3. Jason says:

    As a male primary school teacher I can relate to many of the points raised in your great blog post, and I agree with the other comments, however some do points leave a bad taste in the mouth.

    Especially the assumption that you can control difficult classes just because you are a man. I can control difficult classes because I value and refine my behaviour management techniques and treat children as individuals. Female colleaugues often dismiss my skills as “its because he’s a man” or “they are just scared of him” which is ignorant and insulting. Not all men can control classes, a good teacher can whether male or female.

    There is a great book on Amazon about being a male primary school teacher called Tips for Real Men in Primary School that I have read recently that delves humourously and deeply into all the issues facing 21st century male educators of young people.

  4. sam says:

    Dear all, I am currently completing my final assignment for my degree in childhood studies and am looking at the importance of male teachers within the primary school. I personally feel that both boys and girls need to experience a male teacher and I especially believe that it is important for children from fatherless homes. I presently work with two male NQT’s and wish that there were more as I see the benefits of a male in the classroom. I would be really interested to hear any more views about this topic. I find it incredibly sad that there is a stigma attatched with males having an ulterior motive for wanting to work with children as I believe that lots of young men have a great deal of knowledge that they can impart on children today.

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