Let's show more respect to male primary teachers
BY trade, I’m a male primary school teacher. I loved working with young kids, from the time I worked as a graduate in an Aboriginal community as their preschool and Prep teacher in 1994.
It was the year Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Kindergarten Cop was released and, due to my 194cm and 120kg frame, I copped some ribbing. And that’s fine.
But I still brace myself each time I reveal my trade to others socially.
While I’m proud of the work
I’ve done and have benefited from the platform my teaching gave my career as a principal and education consultant, the reaction I get from some others when I tell them I teach little people hurts me.
The number of times I’ve been coyly called a “kiddie fiddler” or a “rock spider”, followed with “ah, just joking mate” is inordinate.
It’s part of a broad societal acceptance that primary school teaching is still women’s work and that any real man wouldn’t be caught dead consoling a five-yearold who has scraped her knee.
I’ve watched a singular male teacher in a group of them acknowledged positively in a social setting, for no other reason than he was the PE teacher.
I’ve also thought twice about hugging a student whose mother died. Can you believe any compassionate person would be hesitant about hugging a griefstricken 11-year-old-girl because of how it might look to others? I’m glad I hugged her anyway.
Even now, when I make comment on matters of the classroom in the media, the comments that flow are consistent with this undercurrent.
Some have said they wouldn’t want their kid in the swimming changerooms or on an excursion with me and some have even used the word pedophile. They are rarely rebuked by others online.
Until now, I’ve sucked this up, knowing that my work matters.
I’ve had former students tell me about the difference I’ve made in their lives and the long-lasting impact of my positive influence over their lives as adults.
But the severe decline in male primary school teachers can no longer be tolerated.
Research released by Macquarie University this month reveals male primary teachers represent only 18.25 per cent of their workforce.
This is down from 28.5 per cent in 1977.
The kneejerk reaction to this is sympathy for the boys in our primary schools. After all, it’s a widely espoused view that they need positive male role models in their lives now more than ever.
But what’s the point of these boys having male teachers as role models if the regard we parents hold these teachers in is so scant?
And the stereotyping of primary school teaching as a female domain is destructive to female primary teachers too and thereby to the profession as a whole.
History tells us that professions that become “women’s work” are always those with the lowest pay and our appalling national pay gap is emblematic of this.
Countless men leave the primary teaching workforce because of a cumulation of both the disrespect I’ve outlined in this article and the poor pay and conditions.
When adequately paid male teachers can rock up to the local front bar bragging about their new BMW X5, in the same way our miners do, perhaps the snide guffaws about pedophilia might stop and men will reconsider teaching as a calling. Then everyone wins.