by Ronit Baras - Family Matters

In her article More male teachers needed, Gayle wrote about the reasons male teachers are needed in the education system. She expressed it from a mother’s point of view and described how beneficial it is for children to have male figures in their life, especially in a society where many kids do not live with mum and dad in the same house.

As a female teacher, I feel the need is even greater. When I studied for my teaching diploma, I worked in a project called Creative Thinking. We worked in pairs and one day my partner could not come and I had to ask someone to teach with me in her place. The first time this happened, I took my boyfriend, who was not a teacher. He was scared and said, “But I don’t know what to do”, and I remember telling him, “Just be there and I’ll handle everything”. So he came and all the kids went to him and did all they could to get his attention.

The second time my partner was missing, I took a male colleague of mine. This time, I told him “You have to know what to do, because the kids will come to you”. I was the experienced teacher on the team, but the men meant a lot to all the kids. This is when I realised that in a society of males and females we need both males and females for everything and if one is missing there will be an empty space. I also learnt that if we want to change the gender stereotype in our society, we need to change our perception of gender.

Men will tend not to choose teaching as a profession, not because they do not want to, but because of how everyone else will perceive them. In that sense, they are only making things worse. Catch 22!

If you want to know why men do not study education the answer is in stores like “Toys R Us”. Go to any toy store and examine the messages we give our kids (long before they make a choice about career). I have already done this for one of my “Success for Boys” presentations, so here is a quick summary:

* Boys: dark clothes, tough, strong, sport, science, outdoor activities, monsters, robots, anger, taking risks…

* Girls: pink, purple, colourful, beauty matters, caring for babies, housekeeping, cooking, shopping, make up

But do not take my word for it. Go and see for yourself to get your own impression.

Can you imagine the parents’ reaction when a boy asks them to buy him a pair of pink pants or a Barbie doll, or when a girl wants a brown shirt and to cut her hair “army style”? When you had your first baby, did you buy your girl pink and purple clothes or blue and green? Did you buy your boy pink and purple or blue and green?

Teenagers are in the worst position. They understand that their desires and wants do not match society’s expectations more than younger kids, but it is more important for them to be accepted. Statistics shows that young men choose science more than young women do and women choose nursing more than men do.

Now you tell me, if we teach them (with no negative intentions, of course) that they have to fit into the “Strong men and gentle women” mould, how can we expect young men to choose a profession that is all about caring, like teaching?

But we do need them in our education system, because caring is not a feminine thing and we do not want our kids to think it is. Imagine life where men express themselves and are caring and sensitive without the fear of being perceived “gay”, while women work at an auto repair shop without the risk of being perceived “rough” or “lesbian”. How would that effect their choices in life? How would that effect their relationships and family life?

But there is a trap…

The solution the system found to bringing more men into schools is by encouraging male teachers to choose teaching positions that are more “masculine”. Sports, science, agriculture and maybe, maybe Math. Many people were very happy with this kind of progress and said, “This is a start”.

Well, I believe it is a bad start and, in fact, takes us backwards. It only reinforces the stereotype of strong men and gentle women that we want to avoid. What do we teach our kids if the sports teacher (Coach) is always a man? What do we teach them if the cooking teacher is always a woman? (And to think that some of the greatest chefs in the world are men only makes me admire them more).

We desperately need men in the education system, but we need them to change the distorted perception of males and females, not to cement it.

Now, although the education system’s purpose is to mould the habits and mindset of society, what happens when the teachers says, “Men can be whatever they want and women can be whatever they want”, but when the kids go home, they see dad fixing electrical appliances and mum cleaning. YOU, the parent, are still the most influential agent in your kids’ life. Compared to you and your thoughts, beliefs and ideas about gender, the education system stands no chance.

The good news is that at home this task is easier. Mothers, start mowing the lawn and take the rubbish bin out. Fathers, wash the floors and cook. Take turns at everything you can and get your kids from both genders involved in everything.

Change is simple!