Massey University - New Zealand

The prospect of having more fun on the job and better work-life balance – despite the drop in pay – has been enough to motivate several men with well-paid professional careers to throw caution to the wind and go teaching.

A quarter of this year’s post-graduate primary teaching diploma graduates at the University’s Auckland campus College of Education post-graduate primary teaching diploma are men – the highest number of men in one intake to date. This compares with the estimated 10 per cent of male teachers currently found in primary school classrooms nationwide, with some schools having no male teachers at all.

Three of the nine men from this year’s class of 36 who are about to join the teaching workforce have bucked the trend and ditched well-paid careers in engineering, law and telecommunications in exchange for the demands of the classroom.

John Sadler, aged 52, a drummer and former telecommunications technician who completed a music degree at Otago University before enrolling at Massey, believes teaching is one of the few “honourable” professions because to teach means you are not driven by money.

With a son aged 30 and daughter aged 29 (a teacher), Mr Sadler feels older teachers – male or female – have the life experience to better equip them for the demands of school. Teachers, above all, need plenty of patience – an attribute that tends to be well-honed with years, he says.

Craig Watson, a 35-year-old Briton who worked as an engineer for 15 years, agrees that experience outside teaching is an advantage when entering a classroom. “There a lot of pressures on kids these days,” says Mr Watson, a father of two preschoolers. “I think when you go in with a bit more life experience you have a lot more empathy towards the students. You know things aren’t straightforward in life and you know some of the problems they have aren’t their fault.”

Stephen Brady, a 36-year-old former chef who completed a law degree in England before moving to New Zealand with his wife and two children, says he always swore he would never become a teacher. He jokes that his wife and his parents are teachers, and he objected to their “teacherly tones” outside the classroom. But the experience of mentoring students at a high school in England made him rethink his opposition.

The men say a drop in pay will be compensated for by having more time with their families after school and during school holidays. None of them are complacent that the man drought in primary schools will mean they have an automatic advantage when it comes to job seeking.

“It doesn’t matter what sex you are,” says Mr Sadler. “If you’re a good teacher, you’re a good teacher.”

And they are all aware of, but not deterred by, social anxiety regarding child abuse. Fear of sexual abuse accusations is widely thought to be one of the reasons men are reluctant to become teachers.

The rule of thumb is to ensure they are never alone with a child.

Job satisfaction, they agree, will come from seeing students progress and evolve over the course of a year, with getting to learn new things themselves as they are teaching, and contributing to children’s overall learning.

Mr Watson: “We’ve learned from the course that teaching is not just about English and maths, it’s about teaching kids’ classroom management, respect and life skills.

“Coming from my career, although it had an interesting side to it, I could almost predict what my day was going to be like. Teaching isn’t like that – that’s the beauty of it. It keeps you on your toes. There might be some frustrating times, but you have to be flexible and ride with it. Training to be a teacher has been a breath of fresh air for me.”

Michael Irwin, senior lecturer at the Auckland College of Education and expert in boys and education, says many of the men who opt to go teaching later in life have ” had teaching in the back of their minds for long time.”

It was vital to have a balance of good male and female teachers in schools, he says. And it is crucially important for girls and boys to have male teachers as positive role models and “to see men enjoying reading, enjoying learning. Men tend to get out into the playground a bit more – kids love that,” he says.