By NITHYA SIDHHU
The number of male teachers in our schools is dwindling. Why? Do men think teaching isn’t masculine enough, or that it’s a job for the fairer sex?
WITH June being the month to celebrate Father’s Day, I found my gaze swivelling towards the “fatherly” figures we have in our schools. I am referring, of course, to the male teachers who dot our teaching landscape. I say “dot” because the men among us teachers are certainly dwindling in numbers!
Yes, my ladies – it’s us who rule the schools these days. Where have all the men gone?
In my school which has 90 teachers, only 18 are men! Since most of them are more middle-aged than young, it made me wonder - are young men shying away from the teaching profession these days?
The ratio of female to male teachers in most Malaysian schools, is 4:1. Is this surprising to you? In an online article I read, a survey showed that even among Science teachers, there are more females than men.
Most of the men, by the way, teach Physics and Chemistry!
In America, this gender imbalance is well known. According to a recent online report by the Associated Press and the National Education Association of America – the largest teachers' union in America – the number of male teachers there was at an all-time low ... and decreasing.
Nationwide, only one in four teachers is a man, and at the elementary level, it’s one out of 10 teachers– a proportion which is at its lowest level in 40 years.
Reading further, I was struck by the comments made by one Dan Nero, the director of elementary instruction for Canton City Schools in Ohio.
He said that he made it a point to look for male teachers because many of the city’s schoolchildren came from “homes that lack strong male figures”. These children need a man’s hand to hold and guide them, he added.
I must admit that I was moved. I had never quite thought about it in that way before.
Nero also pointed out that “few men are drawn to teaching, a job traditionally associated with women, because it can mean long hours and little pay”.
Long hours? Low pay? I wonder whether Malaysian men stay away from the teaching profession for the same reasons here. Low pay maybe, but long hours? I’m not so sure.
The famed educator, Bryan G. Nelson, made it his mission to increase the number of men in the teaching profession in America.
Nelson said that men must “overcome such hurdles as concerns about their salaries, a perception that teaching isn't masculine and even public fears that they pose a danger to kids”.
Ask a Malaysian woman whether she’s happy being a teacher and she’s likely to immediately count her blessings for having chosen the profession. Who wouldn’t? A half day job does make a big difference.
Agreed, there are times when we stay back in school but by far, we are not as busy as other career women.
In comparison, we teachers do have more time to spend with our families every day after school.
Most men teachers I know are aware of this time bonus too.
While they won’t openly admit, many of them work at all sorts of businesses after school selling insurance, running nurseries and giving tuition. Some are also into multi-level marketing.
Is it true then, that the men don't enjoy teaching? I asked a few male teacher friends about it and here’s what the first one said: “I don’t mind teaching. I like being with young people, building a good rapport and being the person they can trust and turn to.
“I feel proud when my students do well because of my teaching and guidance. And, it’s really nice when they remember and drop by to see you years later.”
A senior teacher says he feels more comfortable dealing with male students.
“With girls, I am always wary. Have you seen the issues being highlighted in the papers these days about men teachers and girls? I have to be extra careful when I am around them.
“With the boys, we can be ourselves. They open up and share their problems with us. Some of them don’t talk much to their fathers at home.
“They will tell us things they won’t tell their parents.
“I think we men handle boys better because we’re made of the same stuff,” adds the teacher.
I asked them what aspects of the job they did not like.
“It does get to me sometime that my friends in the private sector make much more money than I do. It used to bother me a lot when I began teaching, but nowadays, I try to get past that,” said a teacher in his mid-30s.
“For me now, it’s the paperwork that gets to me. I don’t understand this crazy need for documenting everything to bits!”
We both laugh. Then he says, cheekily “Oh, yes and being around so many women!”
He adds however, that he sometimes does feel out of place.
”Women will talk about anything, including personal matters. And, they have their moods. Not all, but some of the lady bosses I’ve had were terrible. So fussy and bossy!”
Another teacher, who is more reserved than the rest, says that he, too, is most comfortable in the company of the guys.
“With women, while you get used to their vicissitudes of behaviour, you still feel that you’re better off being with the men. Give me their company any time,” he adds saying that some women can be petty.
“You know how women are. They get so caught with petty stuff which doesn’t bother us men. We don’t gossip as much and we don’t get all stirred up about office or rather school politics.
“We don’t worry about what someone else is wearing or who is extra friendly with the principal.
“We men come to school, get the job done and are off,” says another male teacher.
He adds that women teachers are “all smiles” when they need their help to do the rough and tough jobs.
“They'll make us man the traffic, be in charge of loading and moving furniture and, yes, clean up after events!
“Also, they expect us to be the sports secretary, and do all the running around for major events. You know ... all the sweaty stuff?
“Another thing – they’re sure to put us in the disciplinary committee. Why? Are men supposed to be more stern and forbidding? Can’t women handle the job?, he asks.
“Women teachers should get their hands dirty, too – they ought to be prepared to coach the hockey or badminton teams, or be put in charge of athletics and KRS (Kadet Remaja Sekolah or cadet teams for teens),’’ he adds.
Here, I have to disagree in part. Since women teachers today are indeed the majority in most schools, they’ve come to accept the fact that they must be able to handle all types of responsibilities that were traditionally managed by the men.
Let’s face it. Just as in any other professions, male teachers have their own quirks too.
Men get moody and have their temperamental bouts, just like women, and to be fair, I think we all have come across some who can be wily and conniving. But, what we still need in schools is a healthy balance of male and female teachers.
I thank God for the men teachers in our schools, because we do need them and their male perspective on issues.
Recently, two new trainee teachers reported to my school, and even though they will be gone in six weeks, I was glad to see them.
I lost no time in finding out what made them join the teaching profession.
Surprisingly, both male trainees admitted that they had not chosen teaching as the last resort.
In fact, both had been so inspired by family members that making a career choice wasn't hard at all.
One of them even had an uncle who had won several awards for teaching.
They were also beaming with confidence and enthusiasm, when they spoke about effective ways of teaching and imparting their knowledge to others.
I could not help but be in awe of these young men and their commitment to their chosen career. “Are these men for real?” I wondered.
They are earnest young men, both looking forward to being teachers. I wish them all the best.
A few more good men – that’s what we need.
Meanwhile, to all male teachers who are fathers and still in the profession, here’s wishing all of you a Happy Father’s Day!
The Star: 8 Jun 2008