“It’s raining men. Hallelujah!” The melody rings true in our ears, we visualise the film clip or even just a vivid memory that links to this song. What doesn’t exist though, is the image of men in the modern day primary school classroom. It’s in a drought and, if recent research is anything to go by, it ain’t showing any signs of precipitation anytime soon. In fact, the trends are telling us that if the rapid decline in this once abundant wetland continues, the male primary teacher may cease to exist completely in the not too distant future. The question everyone is asking is, "why?"
In light of this alarming information, I deem it necessary to inform you of the benefits in which the male primary school teacher brings forth to not only a school but also a child’s development as they enter a swift roller coaster ride into adolescence and beyond.
Oh, and whilst I’m there, I may as well throw in my two bobs as to why men are leaving, or worse, scared to even enter the primary school classroom in the first place.
We all hear (or tell) those stories about 'this school' or 'that school' and their scarcity of males roaming the school grounds. Most have one, even I do. My first school was amazing! It had such a supportive group of mentors, inspiring educators and a well looked after axillary staff. It was a place where, as a teacher, you wanted to be. What it didn’t have though, was a male existence. Of thirty-two classroom teachers, I was the only male. The Physical Education teacher was male and one of four assistant principals was male, but that was literally it. It was certainly something that I took note of, particularly following my recent departure from university studies whereof the eighty-four students to have graduated, just nine of were male.
So why this starvation of such a powerful resource? Let’s uncover some pros and cons of the modern day male teacher, perhaps this will allow an insight as to why this occupation is becoming more and more dominated by their female counterparts.
As an intrigued male teacher, I empathise with those who have left the profession and stand with those who remain. In a recent study of entry-level teachers, one in five leave the profession within the first four years of practice. In fact, the ratio of men to women has now hit an all-time low of less than one to five and this number continues its dramatic decline. That’s right, only 18% occupation from men in primary classrooms around Australia. With first-hand perceptiveness and many tales to tell, I have summed up a diagnosis of why this statistic is becoming more than just alarming and the slide may just hit extinction in the not too distant future.
Within this industry, there’s a really big elephant in the room, always. It may be swept under the carpet in many schools or tucked away behind the art supplies but its festering head is near inescapable. Male teachers are paedophiles. ‘Ummah! He said the unthinkable.’ The longer I stay in the industry, it seems to be creating some warped perception in society, males simply do not belong in the classroom. Why? It's a good question. But, as a male, you feel the brunt of it. 'They wouldn’t be mingling with kids unless there are some hidden motives; some really creepy sinister ones, right?' It is actually really saddening but it’s undeniably true- these comments have been passed. The slightest hint of students in a learning space with a male and questions are asked. Any form of care, nurturance or support for welfare beyond the, “she’ll be right, up you get. You’re tough, wipe those tears away and get on with it”, eyebrows are raised. “What is he doing? That’s unprofessional”, more remarks continue to arise. And the vicious cycle regenerates. Meanwhile, data continues to forecast that, at the rate we are losing males in the classroom, there will be none by the time our calendar ticks over, 2054. Con.
Classrooms need males; their kooky personalities, their leadership and their experiences (yes, this differs to that of women). The men of today grew up in a different world; one filled with stigma and more importantly; one without male teachers. Without them our youth may not be as able to adapt to the rigours of new adulthood as a male of tomorrow. Men need to be brave and tough, yet sensitive and kind. They need to handle stress as if it doesn’t exist, yet open up and talk about their feelings. In a classroom, many a student barely interacts with a male of any kind, let alone a male teacher. Many even grow up without a male role model at all; Dad moved on, Mum and her girlfriend don’t have many male friends to look up to or the child’s iPad is too important to join a football team where the male- to- male relationship can flourish. All of these issues may not have been around thirty years ago and, let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the bond a teacher and their students can establish. Role models come in many forms but the male in one’s life is memorable. A teacher spends just as much, if not more time with a student than its family, hence setting the ideal path for development on social, emotional and academic trails - this is critical. The male teacher fills this void idyllically. Pro.
Huge generalisations here. Men are scary, messy and extremely lazy. Women are tidy, proper and driven. Kids, as we know, are like sponges; taking in mannerisms, traits and even the way we demonstrate basic functions such as; respectful body language, empathic emotions and taking pride in one’s day to day routines. With the aforementioned generalisations in mind, it’s clear to see why men are a decreasingly meagre resource in the primary school. And with these generalisations, modern-day stigmas are being established as well as a robust refutation to the teaching profession entirely. Con.
The reality lies in the facts. Male teachers are disappearing. My experiences though, showcase some of the most rewarding endeavours I have ever met. The journey of teaching, from year to year, can often be tumultuous and as a male, most of its tribulations occur away from the realms of one's own classroom. Within its walls can be sheer bliss; the bright personalities are worthy of life’s gold stars and the mesmerisation that occurs whilst watching skills, relationships and a sense of belonging mature is beyond inspiring. Men are hearty beasts and dealing with the day to day politics and misconstrued messages behind the scenes, alongside a continual demand for unnecessary catalogues of data are quite frankly turning men away. I, like most, love a yarn, thrive on challenge and aspire toward great relationships. Many schools are in discord and men, again speaking in general terms, haven’t the time nor patience to resolve with pettiness.
A more driven focus, based upon nurturance of positive relationships with kids and their community would enhance the attractiveness of the institutes. The learning should be based upon lifelong skills, allowing for growth in a range of areas and be all-inclusive of individual needs. At the moment and with current directional trends, schools are spiralling toward unwanted territory; rigour is sought yet confrontation and defiance is achieved, respect is commanded though authoritarian bias is clearly evident. As a male teacher, more over, as a human being, I like knowing that my opinion counts but the way schools are headed, teachers are becoming just another brick in the wall. So, what hope is there for the students?
To conclude, boys never really grow up and one of their favourite things to do is bend the rules; and that’s entirely fine, actually, it should be positively reinforced. Within reason, this act in itself should be encouraged. The best kind of learning is done in an environment where we mess up, push boundaries and ask why?, yet do so without fear of ridicule. If we delve in and actually investigate why men are no longer wanting to teach in the primary school environment, we would find the answers in this very same philosophical notion. Men and boys are merely the same - just in different developmental phases of life. How do we expect the classroom to be more appealing to a male when the very system the teacher is asked to enter is handing each a strait-jacket on arrival? All this is difficult to swallow; but try swallowing when being strangled. You ask, “why don’t more men teach in primary schools?” I ask, why would they?