When my children attended elementary school in a rural, K-8 school in northeastern Ontario, both the principal and vice-principal were men. So were four of the classroom teachers – one, remarkably, in the primary division. My grandson now attends the same school. Last year there was one male teacher. This year, he’s gone. The principal, the vice-principal, the teachers, the secretary, the aides, the noon-hour supervisors – all women.
My grandson is a normal little boy who sometimes runs afoul of school rules. His parents worry that, in a school staffed entirely by women, the tolerance for horseplay and other little-boy behaviour is low, and that he and his friends will begin to see themselves as a “trouble-makers” rather than as bright and lively boys with energy to burn.
Their concern is being echoed across the country, as was recently pointed out in a six-part series on boys and education in the Globe and Mail. There is some debate about whether the absence of male teachers affects the academic success of boys, but there can be little debate about the impact it has on the climate of the school. Just as we bemoan the paucity of women in positions of economic and political power, we should bemoan the paucity of men in positions that provide nurturing and guidance for young people of both genders.
Teaching has always attracted more women than men, but the recent widening of that gap has resulted in many schools that look like my grandson’s school. The reasons are varied and complex; Jon Bradley’s article on “False Accusations” in this issue tells part of the story. Whatever the reasons, we should be concerned about the consequences. Many perfectly normal little boys are spending their days in school surrounded by adults who struggle to comprehend them and have nowhere to turn for another perspective in a single-gender workplace.
The world inhabited by young boys is unfamiliar, sometimes troubling, territory for most women. This is not to ignore the obvious – that behaviours and attitudes of both genders at all ages span a wide and overlapping range. Nor is it to make any assumptions about whether these differences are the result of “nature” or “nurture”. It is just to recognize that boys, as well as girls, need to relate regularly to adults who’ve “been there”. For that to happen in our schools, we need to find a way to get more men into the classroom and to make sure they are comfortable staying there.