The Urge to Scribble

October 14, 2007

Role models are for life, not just for primary school

Filed under: Uncategorized — theurgetoscribble @ 11:29 pm
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There has been a recurring cry recently for more male primary school teachers. In April the then Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson, made a speech to the Fabian Society where he launched a recruitment drive for male teachers to act as role models to young boys. The Training and Development Agency is running a campaign to persuade more men to teach. Last Sunday, an article in The Observer Magazine belated the lack of men choosing to go into Primary School teaching. Politicians, commentators and the Training and Development Agency are all working themselves up into a paranoia that the children of today are growing up without appropriate male role models. To hear their opinions expressed you could easily believe that if the person teaching boys (and girls) their reading, writing and arithmetic did not have the correct chromosomes then they would all be running wild, re-enacting the preliminary stages of the Lord of the Flies.

 

Male primary school teachers are an unusual species. The Observer article sets the figure at one in eight – apparently exactly the same proportion as at the beginning of the last century. But these male teachers are taken to be an unquestionably good thing. Boys, it seems, will ‘work harder and behave better when it is a man towering above them at the blackboard.’ Surely the automatic response to this is not just to put more men into schools but to look at why the boys behave better for the men. Boys will, after all, have to work with women throughout their life. Is it not better then, that they should learn to respect and work with them as early as possible?

 

The problem is also posed as an entirely contemporary one, whereas, as we have already said, the proportion of male to female primary school teachers is exactly the same as it was one hundred years ago. It seems fair to point out that the male of the species have hardly suffered in terms of achievement in the past century despite the overwhelming feminine influence dominating their early years.

 

What is infuriating is the unthinking assumption that only men can communicate with boys. It reflects a wider assumption, currently fashionable, that communication between men and women is difficult, to the extent that they speak different “languages”. If this is the case, it seems amazing that we function at all, every day life relying pretty much on members of the population speaking to each other and working together. Given the many things we expect of our children and the many things we expect them to achieve, it astounds me that we don’t expect them to continue to strive for basic attainment in social interaction.

 

Graham Holley, chief executive of the TDA has a more balanced view of what education needs. “It’s not that we think that men make better teachers,” he says.”What we’re saying is that education is about more than academic achievement: it’s about preparation for adulthood. Society is diverse, so the teaching profession should be as well.” That seems to be a sentiment worth agreeing with. Teaching is, after all a worthwhile profession, which should not be seen to be closed to a person because of their gender. As much as attempts are made to encourage women to be engineers and physicists then we should work to encourage men to be teachers and nurses and any other traditionally female dominated profession. But there is a limit.

 

According to the Observer article: ‘A TDA study has found that while women spend time and effort putting together a strong application, men tend to make much less effort. They fill in the forms badly, hand them in late, and are less likely to spend time volunteering in schools to gain experience.’ In the article this was painted as a problem that the bodies receiving applications had to face. Surely it is a problem that the applicants have to face. They cannot expect to get a job if they do not put in the time and effort to filling in a form and getting some basic work experience. It is the same in any profession. Teaching should not be any different. A teacher needs perseverance and dedication to the job, if that cannot even be dredged up for the application then that is probably a sign of the candidates unsuitably, whatever the sex.

 

Maybe I am just frustrated on the part of the girls whose well-being seems to play no part in the panicked calls for male role-models. Following the general assumptions that men benefit the boys it is assumed that the girls perform better with a female teacher. So I could be frustrated that they have to suffer for the good of their male counterparts. But it is more frustration that no one thinks to argue that male teachers might be of benefit to the girls as well. As much as the boys will have to learn to work with women throughout their life so the girls will have to work with men, to not see them as a foreign species with which they have no interaction.

 

Graham Holley is right, school is about more than getting grades, it is a preparation for a wider world, for all the students who go there. Lets not panic about whether the person at the front of the class has a penis or not. Any potentially talented teachers should be encouraged as much as possible, but not simply for matters of social engineering to fit around prejudices that should have been combated long ago. Lets just work on getting the best teachers to produce a generation of well-rounded children who have the imagination to look to role models whoever they may be, regardless of their sex.

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