Remember the Police ballad of the 1980s – Don’t Stand So Close to Me? It was written by Sting, the band’s lead singer, who at one time was employed as a teacher. Well, if Sting were going to do an updated 2006 version, he could call it something like, “Don’t Come Into My Classroom Alone or I Might Be Charged with Abusing You.”
You see, when a male teacher goes to work these days, not only does he contend with society’s contempt for the low status job he’s taken, he often makes less money than his buddies in their “male” jobs, and now he also has to watch his every step. If a student hurts herself in the playground, is a hug appropriate? Is it possible to offer after-school help to just one student and not risk suspicious glances? With these worries it’s no wonder the number of men teaching in elementary and secondary schools is declining.
According to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation only 30 per cent of teachers are male, a drop from 35 per cent in 1999-2000, and 41 per cent in 1989-90. The numbers are even lower when you look just at primary schools. Even more disturbing is the fact that only 15 per cent of students in teachers colleges across the country are male, and many older male teachers are set to retire.
Women dominate teaching worldwide
Two years ago a report entitled Narrowing the Gender Gap: Attracting Men to Teaching, by a group of Ontario educators, maintained this province’s numbers reflected what was going on not only across Canada but in most countries around the world. Quoting statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it showed that women dominated teaching in primary schools, typically holding 80 per cent of the jobs. In the United States for example, 2002 figures show the percentage of male teachers was 21 per cent, with only nine per cent employed as primary school teachers.
There was a time when men were flocking to the profession. Between 1950 and 1975, the proportion of male teachers increased to 42 per cent from 27 per cent. These days, numbers are more reminiscent of the first half of the century when the percentage of men hovered between 20 per cent and 25 per cent. In 1920 it was as low as 17 per cent.
It’s not that the role models aren’t there. After all, most of us have had at least one if not more terrific male teachers at one time or another. Strong male role models seem more necessary than ever these days. Many boys are struggling in schools and some people feel the male teacher shortage is contributing to that situation. As well, of the 1.3 million single parent families, 1.06 million are headed by women. A male role model would certainly come in handy.
“We are a male role model other than, or unfortunately sometimes in replacement of, a father,” says one male teacher at a boys school. “Although women are capable of it, men teach towards boys’ needs more naturally. I feel like I ‘get’ guys without having to do all the research. I can horse around with them where women can’t.”
Male teachers I have spoken with all say they love their jobs, but they always have to be one step ahead, anticipating what others might think. One tells me that when he helps students after school, he always makes sure there are at least two kids in the room. If someone bursts into tears, he will tell one child the other needs a hug. Unfortunately that’s not something he can offer. Another teacher tells me he simply found it too difficult to teach teenage girls because they came on to him so strongly, so he switched to a different area.
Efforts need to be made to attract male teachers
Winston Carter, head of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, says worries about abuse charges are real. “A number of men don’t enter the teaching profession or leave early on because of the negative perception. A number of men have told us they have concerns about being falsely accused of sexual abuse, much more so than women.”
So how do you encourage men to enter the profession and how do you help them with the problems they might encounter. In the United States, the National Education Association approved a measure to, “identify, recognize, recruit and retrain” male teachers. Australia is also trying out promotional campaigns to attract men to the profession. Here in Canada, Carter says provincial governments and provincial teachers federations have marketing campaigns aimed at attracting men to teachers colleges.
Privately men involved in the education system will tell you it’s a very sensitive issue. They fear if they promote the interests of men they will be viewed as being anti-female. One American organization, menteach.org, isn’t afraid to offer more concrete suggestions. Founder Bryan Nelson says the major reasons they have found for men to avoid teaching are that it is stereotypically a woman’s job, they fear accusations, it has low status and low pay.
He feels the following actions can change things: “Get men working with children right away. The kids treat you like a rock star,” Nelson laughs. “Get a mentor for male teachers, either a man or woman who likes men. Have men meet, but don’t call it a support group. Call it a club or team, anything, but not a support group. Be aware of men’s culture. And finally offer a stipend to compensate men for the perceived loss they will experience when they go into a lower paying job.” Don’t worry! He says a stipend should be offered to women as well.
One of the teachers I spoke to feels there’s another way to encourage men to lead classrooms and that’s by example. He smiles: “I’ve had a number of boys say they would like to do this. The guys who have fun in these classes see that I’m having fun with them and it looks good to them.”
Sounds like a pretty good lesson to be teaching.
Georgie Binks Georgie Binks is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She is a graduate of Queen’s University and writes for the Toronto Star, National Post, and Chatelaine. She has written for the Globe and Mail, Homemakers, Elle, Glow and Style at Home, as well as salon.com. Georgie is a former CBC radio and television reporter and editor.