Andrew Hall says some of his footy mates find his choice of being a prep teacher “a bit funny”.
Probably because these days only 20 per cent of primary teachers are men and even fewer want to spend each day battling a bunch of five-year- olds.
But Hall, 26, fits in well at Darley Primary in Bacchus Marsh, where the 660 students have 12 men on staff: eight classroom teachers out of 29, plus men who are music, IT and physical-education specialists, and a shared IT technician.
Principal Anne Runnalls was keen to get male teachers when, after a strong history of males, numbers fell to one full-time and one part-time about three years ago, but no one was employed because of gender.
“They were chosen only if they were the best teachers for the children,” she says.
“But these are just brilliant men and they are sensational with the kids.”
The bond the men form also pleases Runnalls.
“The young ones tend to go to Roger (Suter) and Simon (Cornock) for advice. Because they are such great teachers they are slowly mentoring the young ones, and in different ways from how women teachers would do it.”
Hall says there still is a perception that primary teaching is a female-oriented job.
The former youth worker taught grade-4 students last year, but a teaching round in prep ignited the idea of taking on the littlies.
“I thought I should do it while I was young and enthusiastic,” he says.
“It’s full-on but I’m loving it. I love seeing the changes in the kids – they happen daily.”
Parents may specifically request that their child has a male teacher, Runnalls says.
In the 20 years since 1985, the number of male teachers in primary schools fell by 10 per cent, as they did for male teachers overall.
In 2005 a Federal Government Bill allowed for the provision of teaching scholarships for men only in an effort to redress the balance.
But the Australian Education Union (AEU) opposed it, claiming it was driven by a perceived link between numbers of male teachers and the under-performance of some boys in literacy.
AEU Victorian president Mary Bluett says it takes more than a handful of scholarships to make teaching a more attractive career.
“The real way is to lift the status of the profession, have it recognised and better paid,” she says.
There has been a small increase – only 0.1 per cent – in the number of male primary teachers since 2005, Bluett says, but secondary numbers have continued to decline.
“We need to have incentives for teachers to stay teaching.”
There are no accurate figures on how many Victorian schools have an all-female staff, but a 2005 UK study found no correlation between student performance and teacher gender.
Neerim South Primary has seven classrooms, all with women teachers, and a female principal. The only male staff the 150 children see are the part-time IT support teacher and a chaplain.
But it rarely causes a problem, principal Jennie Prout says.
“Once, we had no man to supervise in the boys’ changing rooms for swimming and the centre didn’t want a female teacher helping the young boys,” she says.
“But, usually, we are self-sufficient. We have a couple of home-based fathers who are happy to come along.”
Camps are no problem because so many dads volunteer, Prout says.
She thinks, unfortunately, some males are deterred from a teaching career because of implications about inappropriate behaviour.
“They are very careful not to be in a room on their own with a child – and that’s sad.”