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.