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June 1999

Gender Gap Widening
Among Ontario Teachers

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The high percentage of male teachers over age 55 means that the gender gap in our classrooms will become a chasm.

By Denys Gigučre

The gender gap is widening rapidly in Ontario schools. Massive teacher retirements in the coming years will reduce an already slim roster of male teachers in schools across the province.

And there is no relief in sight, as the number of men entering the profession in Ontario plummets at all levels in both the English and French systems.

The 52,798 male teachers in Ontario make up only 31 per cent of the more than 170,000 teachers registered with the Ontario College of Teachers.

"The current teacher shortage in Ontario highlights another serious concern for the profession. A visit to almost any school in Ontario shows the imbalance between male and female teachers," says College Registrar Margaret Wilson. "The data we have on the College register allows us to go past the snapshot and see the trend over a number of years.

"The College register captures a tremendous amount of data.
As the self-regulating body for the teaching profession, we have a responsibility to share that data and raise awareness of a complex issue that needs our attention and a solution."

The numbers show a steady decrease over all the age groups. Male teachers over 55 years old make up 39 per cent of the teacher population. Between 45 and 54, they make up 33 per cent of all teachers. In the 30 to 44 age group, they represent only 28 per cent, and in the under 30-years-old category, the percentage reaches a low of 22 per cent.

The high percentage of male teachers in the age 55 and over category means that the gender gap in the classroom will continue to widen. The College study on teacher shortages published in the December ‘98 issue of Professionally Speaking showed that by 2008 the number of retirements of certified male Primary-Junior teachers will be eight to 20 per cent higher than that of Primary-Junior female teachers across the regions of the province.


College statistics demonstrate that the gender gap is greater at the lower grades of the school system. Male Primary-Junior teachers who are 55 and over represent about 26 per cent of teachers in that category. Under 30, the ratio drops to about 14 per cent.

The situation is even more critical in the French-first-language school system where male teachers represent only eight per cent – one in 12 – of Primary-Junior school teachers.

A number of societal issues come into play to explain the gender disparity at the lower grades.

"Research in Canada and the United States tends to show that strongly-entrenched values are a determining factor in the male-female ratio in the lower grades of elementary schools," says Wilson. "There is a perception that teaching remains mostly a woman’s profession – in Primary-Junior grades in particular."

One of the arguments raised on the issue is that society doesn’t easily attribute to men the nurturing qualities involved in teaching at the Primary-Junior level, and men in turn don’t readily accept them either.

"I told my friends that I’d be student teaching in first grade. Everyone says, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ It was tough; I took a lot of abuse from friends," a young teacher says in a study published in the January-February issue of the Journal of Teacher Education in the U.S.


Articles in education journals also point to the perception that a career teaching children may not be progressive enough financially and professionally for a man.

"My parents always thought I should try something like international business. Being a school teacher doesn’t rank up there. I know they want me to be happy, so they’d never say anything,
but the topic of ‘my son, the elementary school teacher’ probably isn’t discussed the way it would be if it were ‘my son the international banker,’" says another young teacher in the same Journal of Teacher Education article.

The article points out that, "Males often resist their initial motives and inclination to work with children until they have explored other avenues, tried other majors and occupations, often on the advice of their parents."

Teaching at a higher grade generally seems more acceptable to male teachers – probably because these positions are considered to have more responsibilities and offer more career opportunities.

Male teachers under 30 at the Primary-Junior level represent only 14 per cent of all teachers in Ontario. Men 55 and over make up only about 25 per cent of teachers at the Primary-Junior level.

All Divisions Show
Sharp Decline

  • Less than one in three qualified teachers in Ontario is male. One in five teachers at the Primary-Junior level is male; one in two at the Intermediate-Senior level.
  • Each of the three divisional qualifications – Primary-Junior, Junior-Intermediate and Intermediate-Senior – shows a sharp decline in the number of male teachers.
  • Male teachers with Intermediate-Senior qualifications have dropped to a low of 33 per cent in the under-30 age group, from a high of close to 59 per cent in the 55 and over age group.
  • Male teachers at the Primary-Junior level with French-first-language qualification represent only 15 per cent of all teachers with those qualifications. Under age 30, only one in 12 has these qualifications.
  • The massive wave of retirements in the 55 and over age category will mean that male role models in elementary and secondary schools in Ontario will be even fewer.

Male teachers under age 30 represent 33 per cent (1,819) of the Intermediate-Senior level teachers, a sharp decrease compared to those aged 55 and older who account for 59 per cent of teachers at that level. This radical change in the number of males in secondary teaching has occurred over the past 15 years and has largely gone unnoticed.

"Elementary teaching was generally considered a female profession and this may deter men from considering a career in education. The change in the proportion of males in the secondary panel is both troubling and unexplained," says Wilson. "A critical underlying factor that may sway men away from the profession is the fact that historically ‘female professions’ tend to be paid less than ‘male professions.’

"We really have to look at whether or not education is competitive right now. We’re going to have to tackle collectively whether or not the salary system is attractive enough, whether or not the working conditions are attractive enough to get young people – male and female – to come in.

"The whole education system also made an effort to redress an important imbalance – the lack of women in positions of leadership. The push to create a more equitable system may have led male teachers or would-be teachers to believe that career advancement opportunities were just not there for men in education. In fact they are, and will be, but only if we can attract males back to teaching as a career."


An article published August 28, 1998 in the London Times Education Supplement points to another reason why men may shy away from teaching positions in the U.K., particularly in the early grades.

"Fear of being seen as a child abuser or pervert may be deterring men from applying to train as primary teachers. Male trainee teachers are now concerned that their actions will be misconstrued, according to a researcher at Hertfordshire University. Dr. Mary Thornton, who studies male teacher recruitment, says that physical contact with young children is now a key concern for BEd students," writes David Budge, author of the article.

"Yes, we’ve heard the same concerns in Ontario, too," says Wilson. "The College’s open and public disciplinary process should provide everyone – teachers, students, parents and the public in general – more confidence and remove unfounded – and, quite frankly, absurd – suspicions.


"Children at all grades of the school system need both male and female role models and their schools should reflect their communities," says Wilson. "The school is a place of choice, sometimes the only place, for many children to have successful male role models.

"Some children may also feel more comfortable or learn better with a male or a female teacher. Our education system should be able to provide them with both experiences.

"Let’s not forget that boys will not think of teaching as a career for the future if they don’t see that it’s a worthwhile and gratifying career for male teachers today. We have to provide models for our future male teachers," concludes Wilson.