by Lisa Rutledge, Times Staff - Canada

Not long after public school board trustee Mike Ramsay raised concerns that male teachers are vastly under-represented in elementary schools, emails began to flood his inbox.

“The response was overwhelming,” said the Waterloo Region District School Board trustee.

Although the issue has been on Ramsay’s radar for nearly two decades, even he wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emails and calls from men who said they couldn’t get hired at local elementary schools.

“I was quite taken aback,” he said. “Everyone has a story.”

Some say their female counterparts were getting jobs ahead of them, while others gave up looking and moved away to find teaching positions, Ramsay added.

The trustee is concerned that boys, who are often lagging behind in provincial test scores, are suffering academically because of a lack of interaction with adult male role models. Boys learn differently, he maintains, and may have more success in a class led by a man.

“There’s a suggestion that their (teaching) styles are different,” said Ramsay.

He said Canadian Census data shows males make up a small minority of teachers in elementary schools. To further exacerbate the issue, there’s a growing number of single-parent families, and the majority of those are headed up by mothers.

Ramsay suggested it’s entirely possible for a boy to go through elementary school with few connections to adult male role models.

Boosting the number of male elementary teachers isn’t just about improving education opportunity for boys, however, explains Ramsay. Girls could benefit from a different teaching style, he stated. “It’s not just a positive for boys. It’s also a positive for girls.”

In a motion to the board, he asked administration staff to investigate the school district’s hiring trends, review what initiatives are in place regarding gender equality and report back on how well those initiatives are working.

“I want to know if none of the people are getting hired, what are the barriers?”

Ramsay won support from all trustees, with the exception of trustee Margaret Johnston, who argued the issues should take a backseat to core education priorities.

Administration is tasked with preparing a report due back by June 24.

This isn’t the first time the longtime trustee has raised the controversial questions, but he’s hoping this attempt will produce concrete results.

“I brought a motion to the board 20 years ago,” he recalled. “It didn’t appear that much was done, if anything.”

The gender equality issue is a hot button topic that is uncomfortable to discuss, Ramsay acknowledged.

“Males, overall, are perceived to have the advantage. All of a sudden, you have a situation where it’s the opposite. And nobody wants to talk about it.”

It’s a conversation worth having, agreed Annie Kidder, executive director of People For Education, a parent-led research and resource group dedicated to improving publicly funding education. She said a lot of research has been conducted on the impact of a male or female teacher.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t really show that it makes a difference,” she said. “There really isn’t any evidence that says boys are going to do better if they have a male teacher.”

While Kidder agrees boys and girls have their own learning styles and struggles, she said the most significant impediments to learning aren’t necessarily gender-based, but rather the level of support at home and family issues.

Kidder suggested that the best teachers are the ones who reflect social makeup of their neighbourhoods, which promotes a sense of belonging.

“It’s probably better for everybody.”