As the only male teacher in my primary school I find my motivation for being a teacher is under scrutiny. What can I do?

15th April 2005 at 01:00
Ted says

It is sad that in Britain, unlike in some European countries, there are almost no male teachers working in infant schools and that relatively few men teach in junior schools. Primary training courses are still predominantly female. Fortunately, we have a large army of brilliant women teachers, but it can make it difficult, when recruiting, if potential male candidates think their motivation will be challenged.

The two most common problems are (a) fear of being regarded as a potential paedophile, and (b) being accused of wanting easy promotion to a headship.

Both are scandalously unfair slanders, but that is no consolation to anyone on the receiving end of such innuendoes.

Make sure that everything you do is professional and blameless. That way you will be able to withstand close scrutiny and come out at the other side of it with your reputation intact and indeed enhanced. Male teachers who do an excellent job will rarely be challenged by their colleagues or by parents, and why should they be?

There are many men who find themselves the only male teacher in their primary school. Some make fun of the situation ("They only employed me to scrub out the boys' toilets after school"), others simply get on with their job. Successful male teachers can be valuable role models, both for the boys generally and also for any young men who might one day consider primary teaching.

Three or four years ago the winner of the Teaching Awards' primary teacher of the year was a male infant school teacher. The parents who recommended him for the award used to fight to get their children into his class. In the end that is what counts: doing the job so well no one bothers to be snide.

You say

Challenge any allegations

Male primary teachers provide a valuable positive role model for pupils, but they are much more likely than female teachers to be the subject of an allegation from a pupil. It's unfair, but that's the times we live in. If a fellow member of staff (or another concerned adult) has a serious problem with your motivation as a male primary teacher, then it needs to be openly challenged before it spreads further. What is the basis for their concern? For the sake of your own professional integrity, you cannot allow any allegation (even implied) to go unchallenged, even in staffroom banter.

This must be resolved, and quickly. If your senior management team cannot sort it, then talk to your union.

If you are questioning your own motivation, then have some totally honest conversations on the subject with a few good friends, or a qualified professional counsellor. Allow your concern for the welfare of your own pupils to guide you. Share your fears in a safe context, and decide then on a positive course of action that protects both you, and those placed in your care.

Chris Hudson, Birmingham

Conduct one-to-ones in the open

There are many male teachers in primary schools whose motivation has never given cause for suspicion. If the criticism takes the form of a staffroom attack, confront it head on. Be assertive, but not aggressive: the more reasonable you are, the more likely you are to win support and sympathy from others.

If comments are being made behind your back, go to your head, or to your union. You could be under attack for all kinds of reasons, particularly professional jealousy. However, don't give critics any grounds for accusation in what you do or say. When you need to talk to children individually or even in twos or threes, make sure the classroom door is open and that you can be seen and heard by other adults. Primary schools desperately need more male teachers, not least as role models for boys who may not have much male influence in their lives. This is a ridiculous situation for you to be in. Don't accept it.

Angela Pollard, Guernsey

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