Male primary teachers are victims of silent apartheid

16th June 2006 at 01:00
The Training and Development Agency for Schools wants to attract more men into the primary classroom because a survey shows that this is what parents want ("Don't tell us we need a man", TES, May 5). Well it's not going to happen. Not because, as another survey shows, two-thirds of children see no difference in being taught by a male or female teacher. Not because of opposition from women in schools who resent the implication that they are failing to control or inspire boys. But because there is a silent apartheid in primary schools. The presumption seems to be that a man in a school poses a potential threat to the safety of its pupils. There will be an incident somewhere, media interest, a witch-hunt and then the matter falls from the agenda. But it never fades from view for us, the male teachers.

Every time that we check our behaviour, ensure our door stays open, stop our hands from even touching a child on the shoulder, avoid being in a one-to-one situation with a pupil - these are our daily reminders that we need to be watched. Isn't it ironic that those personal qualities that have probably drawn us into primary school teaching - the supposedly feminine qualities of empathy, patience, gentleness and nurturing - are the qualities that we now have to stifle.

Many male primary teachers are likely to be the only male member of staff.

Unconsciously, perhaps we can find ourselves pigeonholed into certain roles: he's a man, he can take the after school sports clubs, he can do the dirty, unpleasant tasks nobody else wants to do, he can mend the tea urn, he can do the extra duty. He can't? Well what sort of a man is he?

Then there's the social exclusion: we're often sidelined from many "women-only" conversations. And to whom can we turn if things go wrong? We cannot easily be seen to be confiding in a female colleague without that contact being misconstrued or at least being commented upon.

I believe female staff practise an underlying hostility to the male primary teacher. If a parent has particularly asked to see you to sort out a problem, it's because you're a man. If some pupils are looking forward to being in your class, it's the novelty they are anticipating enjoying. If the difficult boys in the school respond to you, it's because you're a man (not a good teacher). If you win a promotion it's only because you're a man.

Teaching can be difficult for both sexes. But I believe that male primary teachers face additional pressures and I don't see how the TDA can conceal them enough to be successful in its recruitment drive.

Paul Warnes

Paul Warnes is a primary supply teacher in Kent

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