MALE TEACHERS ON THE ROAD TO EXTINCTION Part Three

Diet of Male Dysfunctionalism

The community at large is fed a bountiful print, radio and TV diet of stories about male teacher dysfunctionalism. There has been, and continues to be, a plethora of stories alleging interference with, and abuse of, children by male teachers. Sadly, some instances of infringement and violation against children and students are proven in courts. However, a significant percentage of allegations leading to court action are found to be baseless.

For those who have been tried, ‘legal’ acquittal does not negate the associated moral perception and social indignation. Those found ‘not guilty’ by courts and those who never go to court because charges are dropped, are left feeling tainted. In the minds of the wrongfully accused, the damage to their reputations is everlasting.

Children and students are increasingly aware of their rights to care and protection. ‘Stranger danger’, the ‘Kid’s Helpline’ and similar strategies are filling what, historically, has been an information void. It’s important that children do understand their rights and the respect that is due to them. Information from student disclosures, however, needs to be carefully checked before action is taken. If the information offered is accepted without verification, with allegations subsequently found to be untrue, then the accused is violated.

The Need for Human Warmth

Male teachers face a real dilemma. It’s no secret that primary children, particularly younger ones, often seek to be physically close to their teachers. Gripping the hands of teachers, giving teachers cuddles, wanting to sit on teachers’ laps are manifestations of this deep-seated human need. Female teachers seem to be less at risk in this situation than males. Males may want to respond to children with humanity warmth and empathy, but are warned off by a deep societal frown.

By contrast, middle-aged female teachers are often regarded in a ‘grandmotherly’ way. It seems somehow much more socially acceptable for them to respond to the affection of children. A male teacher of the same age has to be much more circumspect, lest his actions be interpreted as those of a ‘dirty old man’.

The challenge is increasingly exacerbated by the phenomena of single parent families. Single mothers often ask that, if possible, their children be placed with a male teacher, for the sake of masculine role modeling. The scenario can become one that creates an acute conflict within the mind of the male teacher.

To be continued.

MALE TEACHERS ON THE ROAD TO EXTINCTION Part two

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but a gender balance of that nature is a rarity. The ratio of male-to-female teachers in Australian primary schools these days is 1:27. At 1:9 in high schools, the situation is just a little better, but still, 90% of the staff are women. At Leanyer School where I was Principal for 20 years, we had at best five male members of more than 30 staff. There are some schools where the only male on staff is the janitor!

Where have all the male teachers gone, and why? Male primary teachers are an almost extinct species. Men in teacher training at all levels ar hi e rare. More and more qualified and practising male teachers are leaving for other apparently less stressful occupations.

Historical Reasons

There are historical reasons for the perceived unattractiveness of primary teaching to men. They centre on the perceptions of salary, status, community regard and an inherent idea that men working with children runs counter to the male psyche. The notion of ‘macho’ and the nurture of children seem somehow to be incongruent. This reasoning is somewhat mythical. Maybe it’s even ‘claptrap’! To hang the diminishment of the male teaching species on such ideas is illogical. But it does nothing to ease a very real situation, that there are now very few male teachers, particularly in primary schools.

Men Under Siege

I have no doubt that male teachers in primary schools are under siege. Along with fellow educators, I study the media’s coverage of our profession. While the media is interpretative, and accuracy sometimes skewed, it still reflects the perceptions generally held by society of social institutions and its managers.

MALE TEACHERS ON THE ROAD TO EXTINCTION

Male teachers all over the world and especially in Australia and our Northern Territory are a vanishing species. What has happened? There is in my opinion a need to turn the situation around, and increase the number of male teachers in our schools, particularly our primary schools.

One of the most satisfying periods of my teaching career was at Nhulunbuy Primary School, at Gove, in North-East Arnhem Land, 650 kilometres east of Darwin. During my time of principalship (1983-1986), the school had an enrolment of 750 students, from Transition through to Year Seven. There were a further 90 children being readied for formal learning in our preschool.

The school had a staff of 52 teachers and ancillaries, which included nineteen male teachers (36% of our teaching staff). We men had our own Touch Football team, we made up almost all of one of the local cricket teams, and we were a major contributing force to local rugby league, basketball and other male-focused sport teams.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but a gender balance of that nature is a rarity. The ratio of male-to-female teachers in Australian primary schools these days is 1:27. At 1:9 in high schools, the situation is just a little better, but still, 90% of the staff are women. At Leanyer School where I was Principal for 20 years, we had at best five male members of more than 30 staff. There are some schools where the only male on staff is the janitor!

Where have all the male teachers gone, and why? Male primary teachers are an almost extinct species. Men in teacher training at all levels ar hi e rare. More and more qualified and practising male teachers are leaving for other apparently less stressful occupations.

Historical Reasons

There are historical reasons for the perceived unattractiveness of primary teaching to men. They centre on the perceptions of salary, status, community regard and an inherent idea that men working with children runs counter to the male psyche. The notion of ‘macho’ and the nurture of children seem somehow to be incongruent. This reasoning is somewhat mythical. Maybe it’s even ‘claptrap’! To hang the diminishment of the male teaching species on such ideas is illogical. But it does nothing to ease a very real situation, that there are now very few male teachers, particularly in primary schools.

Men Under Siege

I have no doubt that male teachers in primary schools are under siege. Along with fellow educators, I study the media’s coverage of our profession. While the media is interpretative, and accuracy sometimes skewed, it still reflects the perceptions generally held by society of social institutions and its managers.

Diet of Male Dysfunctionalism

The community at large is fed a bountiful print, radio and TV diet of stories about male teacher dysfunctionalism. There has been, and continues to be, a plethora of stories alleging interference with, and abuse of, children by male teachers. Sadly, some instances of infringement and violation against children and students are proven in courts. However, a significant percentage of allegations leading to court action are found to be baseless.

For those who have been tried, ‘legal’ acquittal does not negate the associated moral perception and social indignation. Those found ‘not guilty’ by courts and those who never go to court because charges are dropped, are left feeling tainted. In the minds of the wrongfully accused, the damage to their reputations is everlasting.

Children and students are increasingly aware of their rights to care and protection. ‘Stranger danger’, the ‘Kid’s Helpline’ and similar strategies are filling what, historically, has been an information void. It’s important that children do understand their rights and the respect that is due to them. Information from student disclosures, however, needs to be carefully checked before action is taken. If the information offered is accepted without verification, with allegations subsequently found to be untrue, then the accused is violated.

The Need for Human Warmth

Male teachers face a real dilemma. It’s no secret that primary children, particularly younger ones, often seek to be physically close to their teachers. Gripping the hands of teachers, giving teachers cuddles, wanting to sit on teachers’ laps are manifestations of this deep-seated human need. Female teachers seem to be less at risk in this situation than males. Males may want to respond to children with humanity warmth and empathy, but are warned off by a deep societal frown.

By contrast, middle-aged female teachers are often regarded in a ‘grandmotherly’ way. It seems somehow much more socially acceptable for them to respond to the affection of children. A male teacher of the same age has to be much more circumspect, lest his actions be interpreted as those of a ‘dirty old man’.

The challenge is increasingly exacerbated by the phenomena of single parent families. Single mothers often ask that, if possible, their children be placed with a male teacher, for the sake of masculine role modeling. The scenario can become one that creates an acute conflict within the mind of the male teacher.

The Future for Male Teachers Is Not Rosy

There is an increasing focus on male teacher vulnerability but tackling the issue has been, at best, oblique. Deflecting the issue is no way of handling its challenge. At some stage – hopefully sooner rather than later – a considered response to the issue by senior managers will be necessary. Ignoring the situation won’t make it go away. In an age where litigation is increasingly common, the threat to male teacher integrity is likely to become more pronounced.

There are many factors that impinge on the issue of school staffing. Conversations with teachers reveal that the tension of being a vulnerable group weighs heavily on the minds of remaining male educators. I once had an excellent male teacher come to me saying he was resigning because of the weight of this perception. An outstanding teacher was forever lost to the profession.

The problem of the male teacher shortage is one that will rapidly worsen in the near future, given the ageing teaching profession and the imminent retirement of large number of existing male teachers. Unless something is done, primary schools will soon be staffed almost entirely by women.

Female teachers are valued educators and do a great job. However, there is a need for gender balance within schools for the sake of organisational equilibrium. The worry is that we are sadly out of balance.

SCHOOL APPRAISAL

Educators are quite constantly involved with processes relating to testing, measurement and evaluation. This is done in different ways by people directly and indirectly connected with schools. While most factors of measurement relate to academics, there are other things to be considered when evaluating schools.

Over time priorities and processes have changed. These days within the NT a detailed visit by senior colleagues including a group of the principal’s peers and senior management staff is the way appraisals are undertaken. The process lasts several days. Examination includes conversations with some school staff members.

The Northern Territory Education Department has been concerned about the performance of its schools since taking over responsibility for education in 1978. Various models have been followed.

One of the very best was called the “Internal/external School Appraisal Model”. This involved members of the school staff and members of community working in groups to analyse the various aspects of school function. Teaching performance, staff relationships, student welfare, school appearance, communications and all other factors were examined. Each panel included staff and community members. A facilitator was appointed for each group.

Groups had the ability to glean information from a number of options. Included what questionnaires, interviews, and of course the self-awareness of that particular aspect of school function built within the group. Toward the end of the process each group presented in turn to the whole school staff and also members of community who cared to attend those sessions. From the report grew recommendations for future consideration. Each group also indicated things that were being done well and should be continued.

After presenting, each group report and recommendations to the forum of staff and community. Some revisions were then made and a priority put on the recommendations.

When all groups had presented and the final report from the “internal process” developed, this then went to an external panel which considered the report. This panel had the opportunity to order the recommendations as a whole.

This was a very elongated process. However he enabled all staff and those with a keen steak and interest in the school to have input. Importantly the report was owned by school staff and community members.

I applied this model at Nhulunbuy Primary School when first becoming principal. I gained, it was used it Karama Primary School in 1987. Of all the methodologies used over time to help centre school action in the right directions this approach was by far and away the most effective.

When people within an organisation own what they do including developing the context of futures direction the whole process is validated by ownership.

Although it may never happen I would certainly recommend a return to the past when it comes to appraising a school and its place within the community.

AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION IS ON LIFE SUPPORT

Natasha Bita ( ‘Teacher woes create student underclass’, ‘The Australian 14/9) identifies two key areas of need that have been of great concern to teachers and principals for many, many years. Both have a prime place in the National School Reform Agreement released by the productivity Commission.

One contemporary concern, – an obstacle to classroom teachers for so long it has become historical – is the demand they focus on administrative tasks that consume time and distract them from key teaching tasks. These hours reduce face-to-face teaching time, requiring teachers to offer passive and often repetitive learning tasks so they can focus on priority administrative tasks, demanded by education systems. In terms of system priorities, data collection by teachers has become more important than teaching. That has to be reversed.

Permanently improving the quality of teaching degrees offered by universities, is the Commission’s second major recommendation. The relevance of teaching degrees offered trainee teachers has been diminishing for decades – indeed from the 1980’s. Training in the 1960’s and 70’s focussed on the methodology of teaching particular (and all) subjects. Planning lessons, knowing subject content and practice in direct teaching methods during periods of ‘on the job’ training in schools, were key elements of teacher preparation. Practice teaching periods, teaching methods and subject content all had to be passed. So too, did tests in spelling, mathematics, speech and reading. The two, then three year training periods were intense. Those who failed, did not graduate.

Teaching degrees would be enhanced and refocussed if a ‘back to the future approach’ to training was adopted. Having waited for so long for pre-service teacher training to again become relevant, I am not holding my breath.

A question of Balance

Reflect at the end of each day on things you have done well as well as on things you may have done differently and better. You might make a pro’s and con’s list on a page attached to your diary. Self appreciation as well as self criticism is important. It helps maintain mental equilibrium and balance.

DARWIN 1987 and DARWIN 2022

DARWIN 35 YEARS ON FROM MY ARRIVAL

The peace and quiet of Darwin has largely evaporated. A road that was a minor road, passing close to our house in 1987, has become a two-way each-way drive with about 25,000 vehicle movements each day.  Movement is starting earlier and finishing later.

The city throbs to the life injected by tourists and young people who like clubbing. While the suburbs are more austere, the newer ones are far more congested with ever larger houses being build on ever smaller blocks.

Sadly, there is a lot of fighting, ever increasing numbers of traffic accidents, and paramedics who are overworked in conveying victims of accidents and fights to the RoyaL Darwin Hospital.  The wail of ambulance and police sirens regularly punctuate each day and night. 

A lot of long time residents are opting to leave because they feel insecure and believe their property and possessions to be vulnerable. Assaults on people are at an all time high. Shopping centres are often subjected to terrible behaviour by ‘patrons’. Riding on a bus is often like a jungle experience because of unruly passenger behaviour.

Sadly, many of our schools have become unsafe because of fights between students, mainly at secondary but also at primary school level. Students are allowed free access to mobile phones during the day. Many fights are orchestrated in order that ‘fight and film’ episodes can be shared on social media.

The peaceful, quiet and happy Darwin I came to in 1987, is, sadly, a Darwin of the past. Things are out of control and authorities almost hopeless and helpless when it comes to dealing with these issues.  

Sadly, Alice Springs is the same, Katherine has major issues, Nhulunbuy is impacted by socially negative behaviour, while Tennant Creek has been declared the most unsafe place in the NT (and possibly Australia).

The only way is up, but when.

EDUCATION’S EVOLUTION (3)

With The Passing of Time

(Written when I retired in January 2012)

PART THREE

He wondered about modern communications. Were the children of the 1970’s not better speakers and listeners because face to face communication was alive and practised? ‘Facebook’, ‘Twitter’, texting and the new ICT tools of the twenty-first century reduced the need to gain and have confidence in speech and speaking (including listening). He was concerned that literacy skills were going out the door. What would happen to reflection and thinking!

He wondered about the wisdom of straying too far from the scriptural adage,”spare the rod and spoil the child”. While responses to poor behaviour ought not to be barbaric, was not accomodation in 2012 on what was totally unacceptable in 1970, simply encouraging children and young people to push the envelope? Were not the elders abrogating their upbringing responsibilities and being ostrich like?

He was sad that keys, security, guard dogs, dead latcheus, CCTV cameras, high fences, barbed wire, crimsafe mesh, sensor security systems and floodlights had become the order of installation. It seemed that in 1970, nights were for sleeping. Forty years later, nocturnal malevolence seemed to prevail. He wondered where ‘Where Willie Winkie’ had gone.

He wondered about gender equality. In the 1970’s children deferred to adults on public transport, when going through doors and joining queues. Similarly, men deferred to ladies, the young to the old. No more!

He wondered why it was that in 2012, chivalry was dead!

He was concerned about ‘pace’. In the 1970’s things moved more slowly. There seemed to be less to do, yet key tasks were completed. There was a simple serenity about the way things were done. Time off work WAS time off work.

He pondered tranquility. Inner peace had been enhanced by the separation of priorities. Family, work and recreation had occupied degrees of importance in that order. Come 2012, it seemed that the imperative of ‘work, work and work until you drop’ had pushed family and recreational pursuits onto the back-burner. Was that not poor prioritisation?

Did the ‘new way’ promote happiness and inner peace?

He wondered about the future. As a young educator in 1970 he had looked to the future with confidence and rosy anticipation. Come 2012 and looking back he wondered why system realities had sullied his vision.

And revisiting this piece of writing ten years after its was developed, he still wonders.

EDUCATION’S EVOLUTION (2)

With The Passing of Time

(Written when I retired in January 2012)

PART TWO

He worried that with the passing of years, a preponderance of weighty issues had grown into school curriculum requirements. Lots has been added and little dropped. He wondered how teachers could cope and was concerned the children would be overburdened and staff become disillusioned. The educational pathway seemed increasingly cluttered and overgrown.

He was concerned that written reports were no longer short, succinct, explicit and individualised. Rather they were long on hyperbole being stereotyped, jargon riddled statements. They had become increasingly wordy but in essence said less and less. Notwithstanding the huge amount of teacher effort devoted to their preparation, he felt they really said meant very little to parents.

He worried that with the passing of time, children had become more self-centred. “I” and “my” were pronouns and possessives that underpinned their belief and value systems. He yearned for those times past when, it seemed, children were well mannered and cared for others. “Yes please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and “may I” were fast disappearing epithets. That he felt underpinned a loss of character.

He wondered where safety and security for children had gone. In the 1970s and 1980s children could play outdoors in what was a safe, secure environment. Come 2012 and parents no longer felt the children were safe. Threat for young people was felt from cyberspace to the street. There was a feeling that children needed to be cocooned and cosseted – but not by parents. As primary caregivers they were too busy at work to offer personal nurture.’Minding’ at Outside School Hours Care centres was the in thing.

He wondered whether, in an enlightened age, children feel ‘used’ when their schooling futures were discussed in a way that likened them to pawns on a chessboard. He also wondered whether children appreciated being ‘objects’ for limited academic testing (Four May Days each year). Did they feel that overall and holistic educational needs were regarded as important by Federal Politicians setting State and Territory educational agendas?

To be continued