Popular fiction has often portrayed male teachers as starch-suited disciplinarians, indifferent characters transformed by sentiment, or inspirational role models promoting the ethos of carpe diem.
OVERALL, 30 PER cent of full-time teachers in Australia are male, with 70 per cent female. At the primary level the number of male teachers is 19 per cent. So what does this mean for the male teachers at two 4101 schools?
Ian McDonald, Principal at St Laurence’s College at South Brisbane said, “The social and economic considerations affecting men and women, and their role as teachers, has come a long way. Perceptions of status and family expectations have changed. These days teaching is about establishing relationships and there is no question about whether men or women are better at it.” At St Laurence’s, an all boys school starting at Year 5, the teaching staff is 60 per cent male and 40 per cent female, but are women more likely to teach younger children? Mr McDonald believes, “There are certainly different skills involved in pre-school, but when it comes to prep and beyond, men and women do equally well.”
Over at West End State School, the statistics mean nothing. Eleven blokes with cheerful banter and a unified voice greet me. “This school has prided itself on increasing the male/female balance. For us, teaching across all age groups is rewarding, but you have to work at it. It allows us to contribute to the community and align work with our own family and values.”
West End residents Joel Saunders, Tom Moran and Monte Walker were among those who talked of the need for role models. “It’s vital that boys and girls see male teachers in the classroom and playground. In a society where there are many split families, we might be their only adult role model.”
Mr McDonald agrees. “There is a huge need to have male role models in schools. They (students) need to meet men who are principled, take an interest, and encourage a sense of maleness.”
For the teachers taking this commitment beyond the classroom, the belief that their agreeable working hours are a little cushy is quickly dispelled. “Where school ends and life begins is often intertwined. We encourage the involvement of kids and staff at every opportunity.” At West End State School, that includes a weekly staff v kids soccer match, creative art, multimedia, choirs, photography and music groups. At St Laurence’s, Laurie’s Mates is just one of many after school groups, but with a specific focus on supporting those boys in greater need of a male role model.
So what of those taking up teaching later in life? At West End State School, over 50 per cent came from other careers. Whether bored with corporate life, or choosing to do something for society, it’s never too late to start. Mr McDonald agrees, “We have many staff who come into teaching later. For example, we have an ex-Woolworths manager who is an amazing teacher.”
Words and images by Colin Bushell