Why don’t men want to teach?

It’s not true of course. Some do. I did for many years, but the reality is that the teaching profession in the UK is overwhelmingly female, about 72%. In primary education, it’s even worse, over 90%. When I was at the GTC (where we registered qualified teachers and monitored trends) we go to the point in 2009 where there was only one qualified practicing male nursery teacher in the whole of England.

I also see it in the talks I do around the country – some audiences of trainee teachers have barely a man among them – even at some of our large university training centres with cohorts of hundreds.

I ask the question ‘Why don’t men want to teach?’ but really you don’t have to go far for the answer. Ask any man training to be a teacher – as I do – and they will tell you that teaching is seen largely as a ‘feminised profession’ and that the so-called ‘soft skills’ of communication, empathy and emotional intelligence are often considered to be better developed and honed in the female of the species – and this is the view of those who have already had the courage to overcome that notion and entered the training to be a teacher.

Of course I contest all that with them. I think it’s all rubbish. But it’s a widespread misconception about why women might be better suited to teaching than men. Yet men have advantages in the profession that women don’t. Women are regularly discriminated against – especially when women go on maternity leave or take an extended break from the job to focus on their family – they rarely come back to the same job, responsibility or status. There may be fewer men in teaching, but they ‘get on’ far better when it comes to career progression.

But in the last ten years or so, I’ve also noticed a very disturbing trend that has further exacerbated this issue – it’s the fear many men have that they are vulnerable to accusations of inappropriate physical or sexualized contact. In my view, this is frightening away many potential male teachers, even before they get to thinking seriously about applying for teaching as a career.

Such an accusation – even if it is wholly unfounded – is absolutely catastrophic, not just for anyone in teaching but in one’s life beyond.

We are so worried about this now that teachers – especially men – are being regularly advised by colleagues and teacher unions ‘never to be alone with a child’ or ‘if you find yourself alone, go and ask a colleague to join you’ or ‘keep the classroom door open so you can be seen and heard’ – ‘advice’ that is largely impractical in the busy environment of a school, particularly a primary school and ‘advice’ that in reality can only be calculated to cause fear, alarm and suspicion.

When I try to re-assure my audiences that it is ‘not against the law to touch a child’ and that there are scores, if not hundreds of occasions on a daily basis when physical contact with children is appropriate, necessary and even desirable – for example, to demonstrate a teaching point or meet the learning needs of a child (let alone their emotional needs for comfort or distress) I often get a variety of resistant responses, and they are nearly always from the men.

They will tell me straight out that they would not dare touch children in any way, let alone ways that might be necessary, even to comfort, console or congratulate a child. It’s too risky they say. It might be construed as something else… or a emotionally or psychologically ‘damaged’ child might make an accusation and then… that’s the end of their career.

If all this is true, we are not only living with the consequences of a psychotically fearful society but we are stoking that fear and suspicion even more by giving ‘advice’ that is both irrational and fundamentally cancerous to the professional confidence of teachers and the self esteem of children.

If we don’t arrest this psychopathic trend the results will be catastrophic for our profession let alone for normal human interaction.

But it need not be all doom and gloom. Like many things in education – it’s a leadership issue. Just take a look at the 4-minute video I made at this school-based training centre in East London (below) and see how confident these men are – all of whom are new to teaching or in training. It’s inspiring to watch how good they are.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

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4 thoughts on “Why don’t men want to teach?

  1. I trained as a primary school teacher but now work in a pre-school. The idea that I could do my job on an equal footing with female colleagues, without touching the children is ridiculous. The idea that all males are potential paedophiles is profoundly disturbing and a sad indictment of some people. I have to say that the people who matter most – the children and their parents – have been absolutely fantastic. After 27 years in the workplace, I can honestly say that I have reached my favourite workplace ever. More men should be encouraged to work with children.

    1. Hello Dan! I completely agree with your post. People in our society are very critical. We are quick to judge a book by its cover before opening up the book and reading its contents. I am glad to know that you enjoy your profession as a teacher. Even though I understand why some men do not choose teaching as a profession, I honestly would like to see more males in the classroom because our little boys need to see male role models in the classroom, especially if their fathers are absent from the home. I commend you for being dedicated to your career, and I applaud you for changing children’s lives. Teaching is a very rewarding career, and not everyone can teach. It takes special people to teach.

  2. Good evening/morning! I found the article about men not teaching very interesting. Although I am not a male, I have a few male friends who are teachers. I also have a male friend who is a permanent substitute teacher in the public school system where I reside. During my student-teaching experience, I remember a young lady coming into the classroom asking me if I had seen Mr. John Doe. She was very excited when she asked me, so I already knew where her question was alluding to. Because she was a student and a minor, I only listened and did not respond to her excitement. Meanwhile, she says, “Mr. John Doe is so fine!” I shook my head and walked away. Even though her comment seemed harmless, it was inappropriate, especially since she shared it with me, an adult. Not only did she have these thoughts about Mr. John Doe, but other female students did too. When I shared this information with Mr. John Doe in private outside of school, I told him to be careful. Because several male teachers had been convicted of engaging in sexual activity with students, I did not want my friend to get caught up in such a disarming situation. As a result, he did not engage in much interaction with his students because he did not want to be convicted of any estranged behavior. Therefore, I completely understand why men choose not to enter into the teaching profession.

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