A study by Macquarie University found that male teachers may face “extinction” in Australian primary schools by the year 2067 – and government schools in 2054 –unless urgent policy action is taken.
This was the call to action in 2017, and in 2019 the issue is being discussed with just as much gusto.
However, many of the reasons given in favour of pursuing a more gender balanced teacher workforce in Australia miss the point, two researchers argue.
In a new paper, Dr Kevin McGrath of Macquarie University and his fellow researchers from Australia and South Africa says the reasons Australia needs more men in teaching aren't quite what people think.
The research team identified multiple reasons why education policymakers should be concerned about the shortage of male teachers in primary schools: on the child level, the classroom level, the organisational level, and a societal level.
“Although female teachers alone can model both ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ traits, children’s gender knowledge is extended when they observe men also demonstrating these traits,” Dr McGrath and his researchers wrote.
Further, they note that having both male and female teachers may contribute to positive classroom dynamics.
“At the classroom level, the influence of teacher gender manifests in relationships, the classroom climate, and attitudes and beliefs,” they wrote.
“For example, female teachers tend to report closer relationships with girls, whereas, male teachers report similarly close relationships with boy and girls.”
‘Male teachers understand boys better’
Dr McGrath and his research team said male teachers are more likely than female teachers to view boys as being academically capable and “may also be more forgiving of boys when they act out or engage in rough and tumble play”.
In their previous research, they say: “Australian girls in sixth grade expressed a need for more male teachers to understand how to interact with men outside of their families, while boys claimed that male teachers understood them better than did female teachers.
Notably, both boys and girls reported that it was easier to relate to a teacher of the same gender.”
With this in mind, the researchers suggest it would be worth investigating whether having male teachers could help boys feel a greater sense of belonging at school, whereas presently, “boys tend to report lower school belonging than do girls.”
In 2018, Australia’s ranked relatively poorly among OECD countries when it came to students’ sense of belonging at school.
Dr McGrath also suggests it is worth pursuing a higher proportion of male teachers for organisational reasons.
In many other industries, he says, gender diversity is frequently pursued to foster an inclusive workplace – often with benefits to employees’ job satisfaction and performance.
Previous research, he says, has shown that women in workforces with less than 20% women often experienced excessive visibility in the workplace, found their differences exaggerated, and were often misperceived by others at work in line with generalisations.
In Dr McGrath’s view, as a minority group, male teachers may have similar experiences, potentially creating feelings of isolations and difference.
On a societal level, the researchers say it is valuable to increase the proportion of male teachers, as it challenges harmful stereotypes, and supports men’s involvement in the lives of young children.
This, they say, provides an opportunity for men to “embody caring and nurturing traits and to normalize the participation of men in children’s lives.”
At the same time, says Dr McGrath, this places male teachers up against many stereotypical ideas about masculinity.
Men who challenge these ideas in their choices are at risk of being “depicted as abnormal.” This effect is exaggerated for male teachers in the workplace, since their minority status often places them in the spotlight.
This may be especially difficult for men who are homosexual, says Dr McGrath, due to stereotypes which depict them as “feminised” regardless of their individual qualities, and slurs that falsely link homosexuality with paedophilia.
“Encouraging diverse groups of men to work as school teachers may promote the acceptance of alternative masculinities while legitimising the role of men in children’s lives,” the researchers said.
To overcome the male teacher shortage, they say, and reap the benefits for children, teachers, and society, further research on the shortage is important – but support is also needed from policymakers.
“To increase men’s participation in the profession, in both Australia and South Africa, powerful intervention and support is needed from those who hold political power,” they said.
The research cited in this article was published by Kevin F McGrath et al. (2019). ‘The Plight of the Male Teacher: An Interdisciplinary and Multileveled Theoretical Framework for Researching a Shortage of Male Teachers’. Journal of Men’s Studies.