A few (more) good men

The number of male teachers in schools is shrinking - particularly at the elementary level. Finding ways to attract men and keep them contributing to our classrooms should be a priority for the profession. by Doug Wilson


by Doug Wilson

The Globe and Mail reported in early January that men were fast becoming an endangered species in the nation's classrooms. The College's own data for Ontario supports the assertion. The questions that arise are: why and what can be done about it?

Is education - like nursing for women or engineering for men - simply one of those professions dominated by one gender? In Ontario, 96 per cent of nurses are women while 93.5 per cent of engineers are male. Among Ontario's teaching professionals only 30 per cent are male. And even this number is slipping.

January 2004 College registry data for each divisional qualification group confirms a decline. One in four Primary/Junior level teachers age 30 and over are men. But for men under 30 the number slips to one in ten. In fact, many Ontario elementary schools do not have a single male teacher on staff.
Even at the Intermediate/Secondary level - where the male-female ratio has traditionally been a little more even - there has been a decline. Men now make up only one-third of teachers 30 years old and under.

In 2002, 28 per cent of applicants to teacher-education programs at Ontario's faculties of education were male, according to the Ontario Universities' Application Centre.

There are theories as to why more men aren't entering the profession - low salaries, lower status, fear of sexual misconduct accusations. All are likely contributing factors.

We know from the College's Transition to Teaching study why young men enter teaching. They want to make a difference in people's lives (80 per cent of first-year teachers; 72 per cent of second-year teachers) and they enjoy working with children/young people (62 per cent of first-year teachers; 67 per cent of those in their second year).

We know that of the male first-year teachers who participated in our study, only 26 per cent thought that compensation, benefits and pension were important motivations to enter teaching, while 35 per cent said that these were important considerations for staying.

We also know that up to 30 per cent of teachers new to the profession are at risk of leaving it within their first five years (which is why the College proposes a mandatory two-year program of support in all Ontario schools for newly certified teachers).

We do not know about the men who do not choose teaching as a career.

I will leave to the sociologists and psychologists discussions of whether male teachers are more attuned to the needs of boys or what it means to a young lad lacking in good male role models to have a male teacher at school. But I do believe the learning experience of all students is enriched by exposure to both male and female role models.

Education stakeholders at all levels must do their part to make teaching attractive to young men. Are there incentives or programs the faculties, boards, federations and ministry can create that will draw young men to enter teaching?

Last year, the Ministry of Education supported teacher recruitment by spending $500,000 on a public "Be the Spark" campaign aimed at encouraging undergraduate math, science and computer science students to consider careers in teaching. The College, working with the Ontario Teachers' Federation, the Council of Ontario Directors of Education, the ministry and the Ontario Association of Deans of Education, helped to shape that effort. Perhaps a similar campaign directed at young men is worth considering now.

Teaching has given me enormous job satisfaction and countless opportunities for personal and professional growth. I've enjoyed the challenges and have felt tremendous pride in helping young people develop as students and as contributing, responsible citizens. I was called to the profession and have been grateful ever since for the chance to serve.

Admittedly, I have a bias. But I am also certain that though great teaching is not gender-biased, Ontario's public schools need a few more good men.