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Schools - and society generally - to suffer because of falling numbers of male teachers

Posted on 8 July 2018
Schools - and society generally - to suffer because of falling numbers of male teachers
In 2017, the first longitudinal study of teacher numbers in Australia concluded that when it came to the education profession, men weren't only a dying breed, but were virtually extinct.

According to a report last week, Queensland has one of the lowest ratios of male teachers with just 17 per cent fronting a classroom.

No wonder Australian Catholic University education academic Matthew Zbaracki has joined the chorus for the Government to deal with this gender disparity in schools.

Suggesting the State Government offer teaching scholarships to deserving male graduates, it will be interesting to see if anything changes.

After all, though education experts have been warning about the man-teacher drought for years, nothing significant has been done.

This situation isn't peculiar to Australia, but is happening in the UK, US and Europe as well - especially in primary schools where the proportion of male-to-female staff is heavily skewed towards women. It's no wonder we talk about the teaching profession as being "feminised".

Leader of the longitudinal survey, Macquarie University's Kevin McGrath, found the number of male primary school teachers had fallen 10 per cent since 1977, while the number of male high-school teachers had dropped 14 per cent. There has been a steady decline for decades particularly in government schools and, unless something is done to correct this, McGrath predicts male teachers will disappear by 2067.

While the profession itself is laden with problems, including being poorly paid and undervalued with many current staff readily admitting they love teaching but 80 per cent of the work is no longer about pedagogy, it's the lack of men in the classroom that poses a real problem and not just to schools, but as Professor Tania Aspland, from Australian Catholic University states, to society as a whole.

"It's no different from the argument for more women on the governing boards of large corporations," she said last year.

"Schools are microcosms of society and children are entitled to both female and male role models.

Because of the changing structure of families, it's up to the schools to provide that microcosm." From the moment men express interest in education, they're cautioned that it's not well paid making them understandably baulk, despite feeling a "calling" or wishing to work in the field. Being a teacher is also perceived as a low-status job.

External pressure to conform to stereotyped masculine ideals persuades many blokes to choose another more "appropriate" career than teaching.

This is before we consider increased casualisation, dealing with unruly kids, the amount of red-tape involved nowadays, NAPLAN, report writing, peer assessment, being a child's counsellor, nutritionist, and often psychologist never mind the demands of unrealistic parents.

Add to this the fear of having interactions with students misinterpreted. Male teachers make certain never to be alone with a child and have desks positioned certain ways and doors always open.

Women, it seems, are the only sex given social and cultural permission to nurture or work with children without garnering suspicion.

This isn't only about equality, but about ensuring children are exposed to a range of good, strong, kind and clever male role-models as well as female, and outside the family.

As a female educator, it's hard not to be frustrated that it's taken the absence of men to draw attention to ongoing issues in education - issues that impact on both sexes: teachers, parents and children as well as the broader community.

Scholarships for able male teachers might improve staff gender ratios but increasing pay, according the profession the respect it deserves regardless of the sex of the teacher and changing negative perceptions of one of the worthiest jobs anyone can do, might just help us all.

From: Courier Mail, Brisbane  by Karen Brooks

18 Jun 2018

Karen Brooks is an honorary senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, karenrbrooks33@gmail.com

Tags: Strategic Professional Development wellbeing

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