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.