by Jarrod Booker - New Zealand Herald

The economic downturn is believed to be behind a jump in men training to be teachers – a welcome development for schools trying to even up the gender balance.

But while secondary schools are pleased to see more male teachers coming through, they say recruiting and retaining enough suitable staff remains a problem.

Massey University’s College of Education has almost doubled the number of men in its secondary school Graduate Diploma of Teaching course this year, up from 35 to 65.

Men now represent about half of the course dominated in recent years by women. In 2007, 15 of 158 education graduates were male.

Programme co-ordinator Dr Peter Rawlins said the male increase was exciting. It reflected a number of factors, including the international economic downturn and rising unemployment in New Zealand.

Teaching provided job security and “feedback we’ve had so far suggests that future job security is an influential factor in decision-making,” Dr Rawlins said. “The majority of students we’ve talked to say that teaching is something that they’ve thought about doing in the past, and they now feel that the time is right.”

Student Phil Chiet, 29, entered the training this year with a background in film and media study.

“With a lack of male teachers, my chances of getting a job where I wanted to be were a lot higher.”

At Auckland and Victoria Universities, teacher training numbers are up, but are still female-dominated.

Auckland Grammar School headmaster John Morris said any increases in men training to be teachers was encouraging.

Many of his students came to the school without having had strong male role models in their lives, and therefore male teachers were “very important for their progress and development”.

Mr Morris said secondary schools were still struggling to get enough good teachers and were looking to Britain and South Africa to recruit.

Dr Rawlins said the mix of age groups of his new teacher trainees, the oldest being 60, was as diverse as the subjects the students were choosing to specialise in.

At 60, accountant Don Maclean was enjoying a pretty comfortable life.

Many his age would be looking towards retirement, but the Foxton man still had a lifelong dream to fulfil – to become a teacher.

Last week, after being accepted for graduate teacher training at Massey University, Mr Maclean handed in his notice at his accountancy firm.

“It’s something I have always wanted to do,” he told the Herald.

“I’ve been an accountant all my life – I like numbers and maths and it’s paid the bills. For the first time in my life I haven’t got a mortgage and our last child left home at Christmas.”

A big jump in men studying to be teachers at the university this year is being partly put down to the job security offered during the economic downturn, but this is not the attraction for Mr Maclean.

“Even if I won Lotto I wouldn’t give up because it’s something I have always had a dream of doing – engaging and helping young people to follow their dream.”

Mr Maclean is a father of three and grandfather, his wife is deputy principal of Foxton Primary School and many others in his family have been involved in education.

The programme co-ordinator at the Massey University College of Education, Dr Peter Rawlins, said: “I’m often asked, ‘Why on Earth would you take on a 60-year-old?’ and my response is, ‘Why on Earth not?’

He’s no different from any other person.”