Posted tagged ‘teachers’

Male teachers returning?

March 9, 2010

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.

Graduating the teachers

November 7, 2008

On Friday morning I shall be presiding over the first of ten graduation ceremonies that will be taking place over just five days. I shall be shaking upwards of 2,000 hands and will be working further towards my claim for repetitive strain injury…

In fact, I am particularly fond of conferrings, as they are iconic moments in the life of a university community, where we celebrate achievement and, we hope, sow the seeds for a lifetime of continuing links between us and our graduates. The first four of the ceremonies this time are in St Patrick’s College, a teacher training college which is part of the DCU family. Many of the new graduates will become primary school teachers, and in that role they will have charge of the next generation of citizens; there can be few more important jobs.

But equally, the teaching profession, like most professions, is having to undertake a re-evaluation of what it does and how it does it, so that schools can meet the challenges likely to emerge in a multi-cultural Ireland that will now also face the problems and hardships of a recession. On the whole, our education system has changed very little over the past 100 years, while society has changed beyond all recognition. I never cease to be amazed at the dedication and hard work of the teachers I meet, but I do wonder whether the system that governs and manages our education sector is run by people who are ambitious enough for it, or consider sufficiently what our schools need to do to provide this country with the skills and aptitudes it needs.

I have no doubt, however, that the graduates of St Patrick’s College will be well equipped to support such a discussion and to make their own important contribution to the future welfare of Ireland.