Written for the International Principal’s Conference held in Norway in 1988. My paper was published on their website.

The situation has not really changed, other than having male teachers in percentage terms of the overall teaching force continuing to decline.

Gray – Male Teachers: The Road to Extinction
Henry Gray, Australia

Male teachers all over the world are a vanishing species. What has happened? What can be done to turn the situation around, and to increase the number of male teachers in our 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. Until recently, this town of 4,200 people was accessible only by air. 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, we are a staff of 38. Only five of us (13%) are male. 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 are 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 colleagues, 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

The problem of the male teacher shortage is one that may 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. Do readers have any suggestions about how this problem can be solved?


Who would you like to talk to soon?


I would welcome the opportunity to talk soon. Not to one individual but the whole of the Northern Territory Government Cabinet. I would also like to include our Department of Education’s Chief Executive Officer together with the heads of sub-departments.

Sadly, that conversation will never become a reality and will remain a wish to happen in my head.

The reason I would like to talk with these people is to ask them to reflect upon the past. Look in the rear vision mirror where the Northern Territory Government and Education have come from.

Life and organisation are all about the past, the present, and the future. I do believe that informing what happens in “the President” should take into account what has happened in “the past”. However, they do sell them the case.

Policies and processes defined as “new“are often far from that. They are, in essence, revisiting what has happened in previous years, been implemented and then discarded because of problems. A lot of the new policies coming into vogue (and this has happened over time) are simply revisitations of what has been trialled and then discarded.

This on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again, on-again is tantamount by to revisiting the wheel with organisations including the government, going around in circles. I’m not saying that we don’t need to move forward – we do! But in moving forward we need to take account of what has gone before.

I would very much like to talk with the people nominated, in order to point out numerous instances of revisitation based upon the above methodologies since the 1970s the 1990s.

But as I said, that conversation will never take place because nobody in high places is interested in thinking about past successes and failures: Through trial and error they would prefer to find out for themselves.


What personal belongings do you hold most dear?


Over the years one accumulates a lot of material and many possessions. They all have value.

But in singling out just wanted to one in terms of my own personal self and not taking into account family (the most precious of all associations in life), my most precious possession would have to be an A5 folder containing plastic sleeves in which materials can be placed.

In that folder I have copies of awards, appreciations, academic records, life memberships, and several photos remembering particular events of importance throughout my life.

It’s a simple folder and one in which I store precious memories. From time to time I take this folder go through it and reflect upon its contents.

Self-reflection in a private way is important and this folder with its contents is my reference point for these reflections.



The issues of Alice Springs are beyond party politics.

Several key events in Alice Springs this year, including a motocross derby, the Caravaners conference and the NT Cattlemen/Women’s Association conference, were moved to other venues.

Because crime is uncontrollable and rampant, the light festival crowd is down.

Organisers of the Finke Desert Race fear a drop in visitor numbers.

The Central Australian Football League communities competition, generally held on Alice Springs ovals, has been put off because the city council feels the numbers coming from communities into Alice will add to crime problems already tearing at the city each night.

Bipartisanship and a common approach to overcoming issues confronting a community under siege is the only way forward. The need for action, applied without fear or favour, is now.


Do you have any collections?


Metaphorically speaking, when it comes to collecting and collections, I am a bit like a bower bird. I hang onto things for a long, long time and create frustration in others when I won’t tidy up, throw out, or give away items that I have collected.

Among the collectables I have kept are the following:

All my annual diaries from 1970 onward – there is a gap here in there but they’re mostly intact.

Copies of letters that I sent to people over the years as we were working in rural and remote parts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. They are a good record.

The various trip diaries I compiled when we were travelling overseas and interstate.

Albums of coins, especially those appropriately cast for commemerative reasons.

Chronicles of teaching and administrative materials that I acquired over the years, in order to assist others and also to stimulate writing on educational subjects, something I do in retirement.

Collections of slides and photographs of places that we have seen, worked in, and lived in, over the years. (These need to be converted).

In terms of collection I have given a great deal of material to the Northern Territory Archives, because as I get older it becomes of less used to me and if it’s not given a way where it may be useful for research purposes in years to come, it may well finish up at the rubbish tip when our house is cleared


Copies of articles I have contributed to publications over many years. Included is the volume of 300 columns I wrote for the Northern Territory News in a weekly column “ Gray Matters” for nearly 6 years after my retirement. (I have never written for remuneration .)

I also have a great deal of material that is saved online, including photographs, written materials and so on.

I really use LinkedIn as a source where by written material is retained in a collectible manner.

I blog and have over 2000 pieces of written and .saved material.

Collectibles ultimately translate into a trove of quite wealthy information.


What is the legacy you want to leave behind?


I enjoy life, but I am a realist. As a 77-year-old man I know that I am on the downhill stretch, heading towards the sunset of life. At one stage as a younger person I used to be frightened about passing over, but that is no longer the case.

Life has four phases in terms of the mortal stage.

You get born.

You grow up.

You become old.

You go dead.

I am well aware of the phase of life I now occupy.

The overarching legacy of life that I want to be leaving behind, relate to the first aspect of my mission statement which reads “to fulfil and be fulfilled in organisational mode, family, work, recreation“. If my legacy is an affirmation of positive fulfilment of this position, I will be well satisfied. Those three elements (a tripod if you like) have been my focus and concentration for a very long time. I want to depart this mortal coil leaving behind memories and indeed a legacy so show that this checked it has been fulfilled.

I want people to remember Henry Gray as a person who was a man of integrity.

Finally, I want to be remembered as a person who “ worked with a smile in his heart“. I want to be remembered as somebody who enjoyed what he did and with that enjoyment lifted others up, helping them along pathways of life.

Leaving behind a lot of money and assets doesn’t worry me particularly, but I will die satisfied knowing that there is a reasonable asset base that can be drawn upon by our children and their children.

In short, when I go, I want to be remembered as a person who left the world or the areas of his involvement enhanced and enriched by his presence.


How do you feel about cold weather?


I love cold weather. Living in Darwin means that cold weather is often very scarce in terms of happening. Right now, this May, we are having some coolish nights, with the temperature getting down on two occasions to an overnight low of 17°. During the day, it rises into the low 30° area. What helps to make the cooler weather cool and keeps the maximum temperature during the day tolerable is the fact that the humidity is way down into the 20 and 30% mark.

The humidity is a real stifler, often making it seem hotter than it may well be. I survive the heat but much prefer the relative cold of the dry.

In 1996 June and July, my wife and I went to the UK for six or seven weeks. This was during a period of extended service leave. I wouldn’t say I liked cautions to ensure I wore enough warm clothes. When we were away, I never once put on a jumper; on a couple of occasions, of thick shirt but not a jumper.

We toured or visited all over England, from London up the East Coast to John-O-Groats in Scotland, across the top of Scotland including the Isle of Skye, then down the West Coast into Wales before finishing up in South West England at Lands End in Cornwall. We toured Ireland and spent several days on a narrowboat on the Midlands canal system.

And all the time without feeling cold.

How am I coping with Darwin’s ‘chill’ as winter begins to threaten Australia’s south? I am LOVING it.


Have you ever broken a bone?


Spinal curvature

Fortunately, to this stage of my life, I have managed to avoid any bone breaks. I have had a litany of medical issues over the years, but have managed to avoid broken bones.

I had what might well have been a near miss when I was about 10. My Dad was a wheat farmer and has just transitioned from bagged wheat to bulk harvesting.

He was moving out on the whole Dodge truck with a full week been on the back, the truck towing the auger that was used for ordering the wheat from the header into the bulk bin. I was in the bin which is full of wheat with my back to the cab of the truck, looking out over the auger.

Unbeknownst to me dad drove under a tree that had a hanging branch. It’s cleared the truck, but as the truck moved forward it caught me from behind. It came in contact with the back of my neck, tip me up and I fell out of the bin, more or less headfirst down onto the back of the tray of the truck and from there bounced into the hopper of the auger.

I was knocked out cold and did not come to for some distance.

But I got out of that was a terribly terribly stiff neck and a very sore back but fortunately nothing was broken. That may have been the cause of headaches I suffered for many years and I do have a curved spine in the upper regions of my back – which may or may not have been caused by the fall.

But broken bones – not to date.


How do you balance work and home life?


Balancing home life and work life was always very important to me. I write in the past tense because I’ve been retired for 12 years. However, even in retirement, my postwork activities mustn’t take on a disproportionate significance.

In 1984, I developed a mission statement and this was during a leadership program. The top criteria reads as follows:

“To fulfil and be fulfilled in terms of family, work, and recreation.“ It was important to me to have a balance and I never would work – or tried not to – over and above the importance and significance of my family. This has certainly helped because as a family of five, we are very close together. Neither did I neglect work but it needed to be kept in its place. I am reminded of the fact as has always been that “nobody on their deathbed ever regretted not having spent more time at work.“ I got that from somewhere and it always stuck in my mind.

As a leader, I tried hard to convince staff that Balance in work-life terms was very very important. So to come I was recreation getting away from work and relaxing.

I always tried hard not to take Work home and was advantaged in that way because I never lived more than 3 km from my place of work. If it was necessary to go to work early or late then it was at my workplace that I operated. Taking Work home was something I avoided.

Balance in life is ever so important and priorities need to be carefully established. Once they have been set, they need to be maintained.

Getting the balance right was, is, and will continue to be important.


What sacrifices have you made in life?



As a teacher who became a principal, I desired to complete doctoral studies during my career.

I’ve done or completed several degrees at postgraduate and masters level and was Deadset keen to undertake a doctorate.

I was also a school principal and in that context became aware of the fact that a good number of my colleagues were taking time off work to complete study programs. Thinking the matter through, I decided it would be far better for me from the viewpoint of my job and my work with children, staff and community not to leave and undertake study because it just seemed unfair to those with whom I was working.

so I didn’t pursue doctoral studies and am not particularly sorry about that. What I had was a full-time professional life and what I did was to spend my time as a principal in my schools. I also worked around the school teaching children and getting to know them.

How happy I am in retirement to reflect upon my career. Part of that is to be glad that I took the course of action I did and prioritised my work over study.

As a corollary, I also sacrificed 106 weeks of accumulated sick leave when I retired. Some of my colleagues and others, approaching the end of their working lives, used to take time off for medical reasons and for basically cutting out The sick leave that was owed to them.

To my way of thinking that was not right and I was quite happy to sacrifice my 106 weeks of sick leave to stay the course in my school and work with students and community and of course staff.

Last evening, I was invested with an Order of Australia Medal for my services to Education. I felt ever so proud and humble in receiving that award and feel ever so blessed to have prioritised as I did – even though that meant the sacrifices I have described. Those sacrifices were nothing compared to the joy and satisfaction I got from my work.