Ed­u­cat­ing a di­verse fu­ture

Fe­male teach­ers out­num­ber male teach­ers al­most three to one in New Zealand, but diver­sity should still come sec­ond to qual­ity peo­ple. Christina Per­sico re­ports.

Taranaki Daily News - - Front Page -

Sean Dil­lon is a Pa¯ keha male – but he’s in the mi­nor­ity.

He is a school teacher – a field where three-quar­ters of the pop­u­la­tion are fe­male.

New Zealand has 55,020 reg­is­tered teach­ers, as at April 2017 – 40,819 of these are women. That is al­most three times the 14,201 male teach­ers ed­u­cat­ing our chil­dren.

Dil­lon, who works at Wel­bourn School in New Ply­mouth, says teach­ing doesn’t have the aura of some other male-dom­i­nated fields.

‘‘The per­cep­tion of the job is not like a high-fly­ing ca­reer...It doesn’t have the aura of a big bank or in­vestor. It de­pends what you’re af­ter in a ca­reer. Pay would help, and pub­lic per­cep­tion.

‘‘It needs to be a more at­trac­tive pro­fes­sion in gen­eral.

‘‘In New Zealand there’s the work­load re­quire­ments that can some­times get a lit­tle bit out of bal­ance.

‘‘For me, my fears in the fu­ture are pro­vid­ing for my fam­ily and things like that.’’

Most pri­mary teach­ers with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree would start at an an­nual pay level of about $47,980, which over the years can get as high as $75,949. But that’s where the base salary stops.

Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion fig­ures show 12 per cent of pri­mary school teach­ers are male, com­pared to 40 per­cent of high school teach­ers. In ten years, the over­all per­cent­age has not changed much – 71.6 per cent of teach­ers were fe­male in 2004.

Sam Knox is one of three males in a staff of 40 at Mar­fell School. He says that when he tells peo­ple his job he oc­ca­sion­ally gets looked down on, but most peo­ple, while sur­prised that he teaches pri­mary age chil­dren, are sup­port­ive.

He says it’s im­por­tant for kids to have pos­i­tive role mod­els, both male and fe­male – es­pe­cially if they don’t have it at home. Male teach­ers can pass on psy­cho­log­i­cal lessons, in­clud­ing re­spect­ing women.

‘‘I’ve got lots of fe­males above me in au­thor­ity and be­ing re­spect­ful to them and the fe­males around me – the kids see ‘If Mr Knox does that I can do that. I can be re­spect­ful to the fe­males around me.’ And some­times that’s not the truth in home life, un­for­tu­nately.

‘‘I hon­estly think that we tick a bit dif­fer­ent...how we process things. It’s good for the chil­dren to get both sides.’’

He sees two rea­sons why men are hes­i­tant to be­come in­volved in ed­u­ca­tion – he says men in the sec­tor need to be cel­e­brated more, and there is also the anx­i­ety of be­ing ac­cused of in­ap­pro­pri­ate or harm­ful be­hav­iour.

‘‘That’s a big fear that peo­ple have, that some­one will say some­thing and their life is ru­ined.

‘‘Take away the stigma that ac­cu­sa­tions are go­ing to be fly­ing left, right and cen­tre.’’

Those changes in per­cep­tion and stigma could see men more likely to con­sider ed­u­ca­tion as a ca­reer.

Dr Alison Sewell, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Massey Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion and leader of the Masters in teach­ing and learn­ing, says more males are com­ing into the pro­fes­sion, and into her class, but the un­der­cur­rent of vul­ner­a­bil­ity re­mains.

In 1993, Can­ter­bury teacher Peter El­lis was convicted of 16 sex­ual of­fences re­lat­ing to his time at Christchurch Civic Creche and sen­tenced to 10 years in jail. The case turned into a witch hunt. He still main­tains his in­no­cence, and has made sev­eral le­gal ap­peals and po­lit­i­cal bids to over­turn the con­vic­tions over the years.

Sewell says the case, as well as oth­ers, has left a mark.

‘‘There’s also prob­a­bly a bit of a fear of the Peter El­lis case – ‘I don’t want to make my­self vul­ner­a­ble in a class­room’. We talk about that and put the fears out on the ta­ble.’’

One of her stu­dent teach­ers had an in­ci­dent with a cou­ple of high school girls, she said.

‘‘A cou­ple of girls made up a story about some­thing that had hap­pened, that hadn’t hap­pened, but it was an at­ten­tion-seek­ing thing. It trau­ma­tised this poor male stu­dent teacher.’’

And it can do worse than emo­tional trauma – teacher sus­pen­sions and dis­ci­plinary tri­bunals hap­pen reg­u­larly, and while some are de­served, not all are.

But that fear should not be a bar­rier, Sewell says, with all the sup­port sys­tems now in place if a male teacher is falsely ac­cused. It is some­thing they dis­cuss reg­u­larly at her class.

‘‘Al­ways make sure the door is open; al­ways make sure you re­port what’s just hap­pened if you think there’s a sniff of any­thing;

‘‘In New Zealand there’s the work­load re­quire­ments that can some­times get a lit­tle bit out of bal­ance. For me, my fears in the fu­ture are pro­vid­ing for my fam­ily and things like that.’’ Sean Dil­lon

the whole touch­ing thing – it’s OK to touch some­one on the shoul­der if they’re cry­ing on the play­ground.’’

Male role mod­els in the class­room are cru­cial, she says, es­pe­cially with a lot of kids grow­ing up in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. Even in the six­hour school day, they have a lot of in­flu­ence. ‘‘That’s a re­ally pow­er­ful way to get a child when they’re five.’’ But diver­sity is only one facet of the equa­tion – not the be-all and end-all. Pres­i­dent of the teacher’s union NZEI Te Riu Roa, Lynda Stu­art, says diver­sity is no good if it’s just for the sake of it. ‘‘It’s ab­so­lutely im­por­tant first and fore­most that we have good teach­ers, whether the good teach­ers are male or whether they’re fe­male.

‘‘There is def­i­nitely not enough gen­der diver­sity in the pro­fes­sion, and a lot of the pay and work­load is­sues we are cur­rently cam­paign­ing against are part of the prob­lem.’’ Prin­ci­pal of Sa­cred

Heart Girls’ Col­lege, Paula Wells, has seven males out of 52 teach­ing staff.

She says that while a bet­ter gen­der bal­ance would be good, her pri­or­ity is the best per­son for the job.

‘‘It would be great to have more male teach­ers in our en­vi­ron­ment. If a male were the best can­di­date for any ad­ver­tised va­cancy, and a great fit for our cul­ture and val­ues, I would em­ploy them.’’

The strong fe­male dom­i­nance in the pro­fes­sion was partly due to ‘‘an­ti­quated stereo­types’’, she says.

‘‘Teach­ing, along with nurs­ing, was a vo­ca­tion strongly en­cour­aged of fe­male school-leavers seek­ing fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion in years gone by.

‘‘It has also been seen, rather stereo­typ­i­cally by ear­lier gen­er­a­tions, as a pro­fes­sion that worked well for women, in that they could con­tinue to be a pri­mary care­giver for their own chil­dren and hold down a teach­ing job, with the ‘luxury’ of school hours and school hol­i­days.’’ But for Dil­lon, teach­ing has given him op­por­tu­ni­ties to travel, teach­ing in Peru and Brunei. He first got into the pro­fes­sion af­ter see­ing how en­thu­si­as­tic his flat­mate was about her job.

The pro­fes­sion clearly has its chal­lenges, in­clud­ing pay and work­load, but a lot de­pends on the work en­vi­ron­ment, he says.

‘‘The most en­joy­able for me is when I’m in the class­room, we’re pro­gress­ing through a unit of work and

I’m see­ing real learn­ing hap­pen­ing.

‘‘I don’t think peo­ple should shy away from it.

‘‘There is a cer­tain joy that you can bring to kids’ lives and it is a re­ally, re­ally spe­cial and im­por­tant part. You get par­ents say­ing I’m so thank­ful that my son or daugh­ter’s had a male teacher.’’

WAR­WICK SMITH/STUFF CAMERON BURNELL/STUFF ANDY JACK­SON/STUFF SI­MON O’CON­NOR/STUFF

Alison Sewell of Massey Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion NZEI pres­i­dent Lynda Stu­art Sa­cred Heart Girls’ Col­lege prin­ci­pal Paula Wells

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