Feature

Does Gender Matter?

Jerry DeQuetteville
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Dr. Rebecca Coulter, professor at the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario, and  Christopher Greig, a UWO graduate student, provided an historical perspective. They pointed out that the  debate, while not new, is highly charged and historically has lead to some inappropriate comments and proposed “solutions.”

Coulter and Greig provided numerous examples of  policymakers throughout Canadian history downplaying  the work of teachers, particularly woman teachers, as they waded into the debate about male teachers. There  has always been a perception that teaching is less than ‘manly,’ in the macho definition of the word. Apart from  a  slight fluctuation during the Depression, women dominated teaching because they could be paid less, and men often stayed in the profession only to become administrators.

During the Depression, when men lost their higher-status jobs many became teachers and female teachers were let go: the rationale was that women had fathers and brothers to support them, whereas men needed to support their wives and children. As far back as 1943, an article in the  EducationalCourier indicated that women appreciated all young and single professional men except teachers.

University of Alberta researcher Dr. Janice Wallace questioned the assumptions that society has about male educators. Her research revealed that men who are contemplating a career in education are often torn: our society has traditional ideals of masculinity; unchallenged homophobia makes people look askance at men who work with young children; working with young children is thought to be women’s work. It is no wonder then that fewer than 25 per cent of  elementary teachers are male and many men teach the higher grades. Interestingly, Wallace also pointed out that a disproportionate number of male candidates at the faculties of  education are “second-career” men who are changing professions later in life.

Male  elementary  teachers  often  compensate for society’s conflicting expectations by assuming a super-masculine personality, or by simply leaving the profession to find jobs in more traditional fields, Wallace said. This is a message that other speakers reinforced.

Wallace surveyed beginning teachers and asked why they chose the profession. Their responses showed that  parents and high school teachers were  largely  positive  influences,  while  friends and the media had a negative impact. The male respondents  indicated  that  increased  pay,  a re-evaluation of  the  teacher stereotype, and  a work environment that was more reflective of male characteristics – more action oriented, less emphasis on discussion and consensus building – might encourage more men to see teaching as a viable career choice.

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