Male teachers returning?

Every year in the autumn I have for the past decade been presiding at degree conferring ceremonies at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin, which is a college of my university. The majority of the student who receive their parchments from me intend to become primary school teachers – and the overwhelming majority of them are women. I have not recently seen the gender breakdown of trainee teachers, but my guess is that typically over 80 per cent of these new graduates are female. I suspect that, for now, the majority of school principals are still men, but that will change over time.

One of the consequences of this is that primary school children often only experience women as educational role models. Is this good or bad, or does it matter? My guess is that it does, though not necessarily a much as some suggest. For example, a study has shown that female teachers are often nervous about mathematics, and convey this to their students, and to girls in particular. This then has onward implications for mathematics proficiency and the gender distribution in careers where this is important. Another issue is that boys are driven to a life of under-achievement because they see no male role models during these important formative years.

There may however be a slight change in the gender breakdown of students doing teacher training. According to a report, the recession and the resulting higher unemployment have pushed young men in Britain into considering the teaching profession. The number of men applying for teacher training courses rose by 52 per cent in 2008-09. We are still a good bit off an equal distribution between men and women, but it’s a start.

Generally in employment of all kinds there should be no male or female ghettos. But this is particularly true of teaching, where an unequal distribution may have a number of unpredictable effects. I don’t off-hand know what the trend is in Ireland, but I shall find out. And I hope that in Ireland, too, this unbalanced situation is being eroded.

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9 Comments on “Male teachers returning?”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    One of the striking trends in education world-wide is the great gender-gap (though I prefer the less coy & more scientific “sex-gap”): girls do significantly better than boys in school. As an aside, grumpy old men [of which I am not yet one] like to point out that this particular inequality causes less outrage then if the gap was the other way round.
    I don’t think there are any clear evidence-based explanations for this gap in academic performance although there are many candidates one of which is the feminization of the teaching profession that Ferdinand alludes to. On the surface it sounds plausible: boys may find female teachers less of a role model and be turned off education as a result. Or maybe female teachers are more motivated when their students are fellow females.
    I am not aware of any published research on the subject (never having looked very hard), I saw one paper presented by a colleague which looked at this and found no evidence but I don’t know whether it was ever published.
    While the current recession may be pushing males towards safer prospects like teaching, I doubt that in the long run it will make much difference.

    • Vincent Says:

      Odd eh, given that it was an all male place into the 70s.
      But I suspect that many parents might muse into their Pinot Grigio on the question of gender type channeling. Male teachers were never accepted with all that alacrity outside of the Orders. And the stress, where an entire community watched the fellow like a hawk, caused many a teacher-man to knock up the nearest female and gallop into the married state.

  2. Mark Dowling Says:

    The secularisation of at least one Irish teaching college wouldn’t be a bad thing either, as Fintan O’Toole noted recently.

  3. Perry Share Says:

    In relation to Leaving Certificate maths, girls now outperform boys in this area, as in virtually all subjects, though it remains the case that fewer girls attempt the higher level paper – which may have as much to do with the availability of higher level maths in girls’ schools?

    In terms of the broader question, there is also a very real problem of virtually no representation of males in early childhood care and education. This is something that needs to be addressed, for a number of reasons.

    It remains that the higher up the system one goes, the more males dominate. Thus the majority (all?) of university presidents are men, as are most presidents of ITs (though this is changing). Men continue to predominate in the disciplines of medicine, law, economics, business, architecture &c though in many of these areas female students are beginning to form the majority.

    Women are beginning to dominate in some of the sectors of the secure primary labour market, where formerly men held sway – primary/secondary teaching and public administration are two of these areas. Perhaps this underpins some of the demonisation of the public sector that is now taking place? Or is that too big a leap?

  4. Sally Says:

    Surely it depends on whether the teacher *is* a good role model – male *or* female. And being a good role model presupposes you have defined ‘good’.

    • kevin denny Says:

      Sure we need good role models. I don’t think its that hard to define good ones. At least its easy to think of bad ones. Now just think of the opposite.
      The point is that it may be the case that children at a particular age relate better – for some purposes – to someone of the same sex. If not, great and we have no reason to worry about the sex of teachers. But I have this general feeling that its probably not a good idea for the profession to be dominated by any one sex.


      • I think it’s not just – and perhaps not even mainly – a question of relating to a person of the same sex, it’s about identifying where you might be going in your life. If teachers are all female, the message transmitted to boys may be that learning is for women.

  5. Jilly Says:

    Actually in terms of role models, I think it’s good for all primary school children (boys and girls) to be taught by both men and women. It broadens their sense of the world, of different people and different perspectives. The single best teacher I had at primary level was a man: he was inspirational, and an important figure for me as much as he was for the boys in the class.

  6. belfield Says:

    Sheelagh Drudy, Maeve Martin, John O’Flynn and Mairide Woods have written a comprehensive treatment of the issue in ‘Men & the Classroom’, Routledge, 2004(?) — well worth a read.


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