Prejudice prevails in pedagogy

28th November 2008 at 00:00
With the gender gap increasing, what are the issues behind some men not wanting to be primary teachers? Elizabeth Buie finds out

Gerard Curley exemplifies the kind of teacher the Scottish Government wants to attract into primary - young, ambitious and male.

Already appointed a principal teacher at the tender age of 26, he has his sights set on being a headteacher by his early 30s. Currently ICT co-ordinator for the learning community of St Bernard's Primary in the Priesthill area of Glasgow, he is about to become principal teacher at Lourdes Primary, also in Glasgow, and models the trend of male primary teachers specialising earlier and pushing for promotion.

"Men go into teaching more focused on progressing up the ladder," Mr Curley believes. "My first motivation with teaching was an interest in how people learn and how we, as teachers, can optimise the learning experiences we give to pupils."

Recruitment of men into primary teaching continues to be low, he believes, because of the stigma attached to working in a female-oriented job.

For the Government's campaign to work, he thinks prospective male teachers would have to be given the opportunity of seeing people like himself working in a classroom and speaking to them.

While he applauds efforts to offer male student teachers a support network, he warns that "men need to learn to deal with it".

If men are uncomfortable working in a predominantly female environment, those feelings are likely to affect how they do the job, he warns.

Some male student teachers struggle with being in such a minority, however, as Jim Allan, school experience co-ordinator for the BEd course at Strathclyde University, has found. Three years ago, he became aware that male BEd students were raising concerns in the department's virtual learning environment about the gender divide, both on campus and on school placements.

Although the male intake for primary on Strathclyde's PGDE course, is usually around 15 to 16 per cent, it tends to be only 7 to 8 per cent on the four-year undergraduate BEd.

So Mr Allan decided to create an all-male discussion forum. "They were almost unanimous in saying that the kinds of prejudice they met about entering what is a female-dominated profession were widespread," he said. "They met it in wider society and were frequently asked socially: 'Why do you want to be a primary teacher?'

"What was more concerning was that they felt they met prejudice from some of their female peers. And there's the whole paedophilia agenda - they are very conscious of it. I am sure that's a factor in the career choice of lots of 17 to 18-year-olds."

Mr Allan is trying to ensure that course materials do not automatically refer to a primary teacher as female and has set up a buddying system, matching third and first-year male BEd students.

While he would like to see more men entering teaching, he cautions against using the "over-simplified" male role model argument as justification for a recruitment campaign. This argument has tended to come from an ideological stance based on unhelpful "macho" male role models, he says.

Along with three colleagues, Mr Allan is seeking funding to research whether there is "a gendered view" of the good teacher. "Do people have a view of what a good teacher is, and does that include characteristics that are more typically female than male?" he wants to know.


Almost half of men say that a male teacher has been a fundamental role model in their life, a survey commissioned by the Training and Development Agency for Schools in England found earlier this year.

The poll of more than 800 men looked at the impact of male primary teachers in boys' development. It found that more than a third (35 per cent) felt having a male primary teacher challenged them to work harder at school.

Those questioned also said that male teachers were more approachable. Half were more likely to approach a male teacher about bullying, 49 per cent were more likely to approach them about problems with school work, 29 per cent went to them with problems at home and 24 per cent were more likely to ask them questions about puberty.

The survey was commissioned to tie in with a new TDA recruitment campaign urging men to consider teaching.

However, a number of academics have criticised Government campaigns which link the underachievement of boys to the lack of male role models in the classroom.

Janet Smith of the University of Canberra has attacked the assumption that male teachers behave differently from females and meet different needs for boys in schools from their female counterparts. Her research found that some male primary teachers supported the notion of being role models and others rejected it.

"Those who rejected the notion pointed out that their main role was to be an educator and not a parent substitute," she suggests. "Regardless of whether they accepted or rejected the notion, it is clear that the demands place unrealistic and confusing expectations on male primary teachers.

"The confusion appears to arise from both the conflation of parenting and teaching inherent in the current calls for male primary teachers to serve as role models, and from the contradictions of modelling masculinity while doing women's work."

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