By Susan Sandys - Ashburton Guardian - New Zealand

Ashburton Intermediate School principal Gavin Cooper has just six males on his teaching staff of 20, and would prefer a higher proportion of men.

Ministry of Education figures show there were 12, 175 male and 27,361 female permanent teachers in New Zealand schools at April 2006.

Mr Cooper said many boys were not experiencing male teachers until they got to high school and a lot did not have stable male role models in their lives.

He said he had seen situations, both at Ashburton Intermediate and at other schools he had taught in, where boys had been failing but started achieving once a male started teaching them. This was simply from the boys aspiring to be like the male role model who was teaching them.

He gave an example of a group of underachieving boys at a school he taught at in the Coromandel Peninsula. A young enthusiastic male teacher who got out and did things with his students managed to turn the group around.
“They all turned themselves around and they started achieving, it was amazing,” Mr Cooper said.
And underachieving boys at Ashburton Intermediate were sometimes purposely placed with one of the male teachers and “quite regularly” the school would see a turnaround in the boys’ performance.

A shortage of males in the teaching profession is not being felt at Ashburton College, however, where around half the school’s 65 teachers are men.

Ashburton College principal Steve Lewis said while he believed role models were important for young boys, a teacher setting expectations, goals and targets was more important for boys than the sex of the teacher.

Boys were generally less self-motivated as a group and therefore required more structure, and whether it was a male or female teacher providing that it did not matter.

“It’s very much about challenging expectations, boys believing in themselves,” Mr Lewis said.

His children had always thrived with a teacher who provided such an environment, “and female teachers have been excellent at achieving that.”

Mount Hutt College Methven has a predominance of female staff, something principal Don McLeod puts down to the fact the school has more primary trained teachers in its Year 7 and 8 classes. Of the school’s 47 teachers, two thirds are female.

Mr McLeod said while it was important for students to have role models of both sexes and he would like to see more males in profession, particularly the primary sector, he did not think such a shortage would cause boys to underachieve.

He said he would be inclined to look at some of the other effects such as a lack of a male figure in a boys immediate family rather than at school.

“For me a good teacher will get the best out of kids no matter what sex they are,” he said.

St Joseph’s School in Ashburton has a all-female staff, but principal Anne Wise said class programmes were tailored to meet the learning needs of boys and girls, and it did not matter whether the teacher delivering the programme was male or female.

“I believe you should put in front of your students the best teacher, if at the time of appointment if it’s a male so be it, if it’s a female so be it,” Mrs Wise said.