School leaders are calling for more men to apply to be primary school teachers, to combat a lack of male role models in Early Years education - a formative time for children.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, male primary school teachers have supported the call, as they wholeheartedly agree that having more male teachers will not only reduce gender stereotypes that surround the career choice, but will also give children - both girls and boys - role models in their lives where they may be lacking.
“Some children do not have a positive male role model at home in their lives so as a male teacher, we have the chance to go some way towards filling that gap,” says Barry Whelan, 26, from Wexford, who has been teaching in primary school for five years and is currently at St. Louis Senior Primary School in Rathmines.
“As a male teacher, I’m in a position to be a role model to both girls and boys. I think its good for all students to see that a male teacher can be caring, positive, kind and encouraging.”
Just 15.4% of nursery/primary school teachers in England are male, according to the latest government statistics.
The call for more male teachers came from James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, speaking at the school leaders’ union’s Annual Conference i Liverpool today [2 May]. “It’s important for all children to experience positive male role models, and to understand that men can be interested in education, science or reading, just as much as in football,” he said. “A diverse Early Years workforce can help children, especially those from deprived backgrounds, to visualise their futures and fulfil their educational potential.”
This campaign is also supported by Gavin Goulds, 29, from Lancaster, who is in his fourth year of teaching at a primary school. He is currently one of three male teachers, including the headteacher at Kennington Primary School in Fulwood, Preston. As well as being role models, Goulds thinks having male teachers prevents children forming the idea that only women teach kids. “It challenges the gender stereotype of primary school teacher, which is advantageous to both boys and girls within the school,” he tells HuffPost UK.
Goulds says he once worked with a child who suffered from trauma in his past involving men in his life and as a result, didn’t trust him at all at first. “Taking an interest in his life, praising him where I could and seeking to gain his trust was probably one of the biggest challenges of my career to date and we both shed a tear when he moved on from my class,” he says.
Bowen believes the lack of male teachers in primary schools is partly due to a perceived lack of status and the subsequent lower pay early years roles can attract. “This fails to recognise that Early Years education is one of the most vital moments in a child’s education,” he added.
The primary school teachers we spoke to don’t just believe their roles are positive for the children in their care, but also feel the career itself is a rewarding experience. Whelan recalls one incident that always stands out to him as a moment he felt he made a difference while teaching a boy with a physical disability. “I had spent two years reinforcing the message that there was nothing that he could not do if he wanted to,” Whelan explains. In the last few months of the boy’s time in Whelan’s class, he was confined to a wheelchair after an operation and unluckily this coincided with the school’s ‘Active Week’.
“The child’s disappointment that he wasn’t going to be able to participate was clear and I felt this was going to undo two years of work we had done building his confidence,” says Whelan. “I decided to team up with him and push him, pull him and lift him through the obstacle course as he pushed the wheels as best he could. When we were finished, we were both tired and covered in grass stains but he leaned forward and gave me a huge hug and said the most sincerest ‘thank you’ I’ve ever heard. I’ve never forgotten it.”
Whelan adds: “Teachers can have a huge impact on a student’s life and to be able to give them praise and encouragement about something they’ve done and to see them beam with pride, is amazing.”
Daryl Greenslade, 26, from Tower Hamlets, also believes choosing a career as a teacher will be rewarding for him. He is currently a teaching assistant at Manorfield Primary School and will be a qualified teacher by September. He chose to become a teacher as he didn’t enjoy his time at school, so wanted to make a difference to other children.
“I felt that at times the teachers never really understood me,” he says. “I decided to use my feelings, and put them into something that I think I can influence positively. I want to use what I have learned growing up with feelings of not being understood and apply them to children today, to really help them further themselves.”
During his work as an assistant, Daryl has noticed boys tend to look up to male teachers as a father figure, “They look for encouragement at times, and other times they look for reassurance,” he says. “They feel they can confide in a male teacher more, because they see them as the same - the male teacher may have gone through the things that they are going through.”
Daryl believes it’s “vital” to have more male role models in schools, adding: “As a male teacher, I feel I can show boys that they can strive to be more than what is going on in the world around them.”
Sharing a message for men who are thinking about a career in teaching, Whelan says: “Go for it. It’s a career where every day is different and challenging but hugely rewarding. I don’t feel like gender comes into it. I would recommend anyone who feels they would enjoy teaching and influencing the future generation to give it a go.”
And Gould adds: “It’s a fantastic career filled with joy and excitement. Make an effort to engage and connect with parents and they will usually be grateful for the care and effort you put into developing their child as a human being, not just for their learning.”