Boyz II Men: Hiring Male Teachers Won’t Improve Boys’ Learning

23 Feb

It’s a common mistake. We understand that schools and education can be used to change society and try to solve a social problem through education. We ask educators to change the near future and blame them when they don’t.

What we forget is that schools don’t just remake society, they also reflect it. Schools aren’t islands, they’re microcosms, connected to their communities. We ask schools to solve childhood obesity, forgetting that families control most of a student’s diet and activity. We keep schools safe with bullet proof glass and armed guards but forget about the violent perpetrators sitting in the classrooms.

The Toronto District School Board has fallen into this fractured thinking. Their recently released memo indicated that the board will give preference to certain groups when recruiting new teachers, and among those preferred groups are males. This precipitated cries of outrage from women and led others to ponder whether the education system is too ‘feminized’.

The logic seems to be that since schools are dominated by women, male teachers are needed to ‘connect’ with the many struggling boys and raise achievement. Male teachers are familiar with this thinking. I wish I was paid for every struggling boy assigned to my class because they needed a ‘strong male role model’. I’d be a rich man. Why don’t the struggling boys ever need more mothering? Why don’t any of the kind, well-adjusted boys or girls need male role models? But I digress…

That the education system is dominated by women is beyond dispute. Over 80 % of elementary teachers and over 50% of secondary teachers are female. I don’t know why this disparity exists and it confuses and amazes me that it’s never been addressed. Male dominated professions are targeted and women recruited into them but teaching remains female dominated and has for decades (centuries?). My local federation (and I assume most others) have committees with budgets dedicated to supporting and elevating women in the profession but no similar program for men. Huh? The current situation is clearly inequitable, and if the goal of the TDSB hiring practice was merely to redress this inequity, I’d understand it.

The suggestion, however, that hiring male teachers will improve the achievement of boys or address the feminization of the educations system is clearly misguided.

Teachers provide opportunities for students to learn, and foster and support that process. Their ability to do that has very little to do with gender. Boys can and do learn very successfully from female teachers and girls from male teachers. The gender of a teacher is irrelevant for the vast majority of students. What most students need are good teachers of any gender.

The feminization of the education system is also, I think, beyond dispute, but this shift isn’t isolated to education. Traditionally “male” behavior is no longer socially acceptable, an increasing number of boys are raised without fathers (a third of all children now) and more women are taking leadership roles. This represents a significant shift in values and attitudes over the last few decades.

In many ways young boys are getting squeezed by the shift. They get in trouble for ‘rough play’ despite the fact that active play is normal for boys. Many boys have few or no male role models to guide them as many traditional avenues for boys to connect with non-parental male role models are declining or disappearing altogether (extended family, community, organized activities, etc.). There are fewer and fewer ways for boys to learn how to be male.

The feminization of the education system is simply a reflection of a wider societal shift. If we’re interested in improving the achievement of boys it will take a broader effort than just hiring more male teachers. We need greater understanding and acceptance of what it means to be male and a greater appreciation of the value of male role models in all areas of boys’ lives. Unless we restore some balance to our current attitudes towards gender the problems of boys will only get worse.

3 Responses to “Boyz II Men: Hiring Male Teachers Won’t Improve Boys’ Learning”

  1. sassypainter February 24, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    “Many boys have few or no male role models to guide them as many traditional avenues for boys to connect with non-parental male role models are declining or disappearing altogether (extended family, community, organized activities, etc.). There are fewer and fewer ways for boys to learn how to be male.”

    I’ve been reading up on articles regarding the TDSB’s recently leaked memo on their hiring preferences. As a male and a member of the visible minority, I’m split on this issue. I have a problem with quotas to begin with. I believe that the system needs the BEST teachers it can hire (regardless of age, gender, creed and physical abilities). There has been numerous attempts to rectify representation in all walks of life, not just in education. For example, there’s a push through open incentives for young women to enter male-dominated areas such as architecture, engineering, technology, etc. The police force across the country also has some form of quota system in place to address the so-called representation deficiencies. Affirmative action programs in the States has always been mired in controversy to say the least.

    On the other hand, I do feel that proper representation is lacking and the numbers don’t lie. Should the teaching profession be any different from architecture, computer science, math and sciences whom all continue to attempt addressing this issue?

    Upon reading multiple articles regarding the issue, the sense that I got was that hiring preferences for males (from minority groups specifically), French, Music and aboriginal was not designed around an attempt to boost declining achievement results within boys in both elementary and high school systems. It may be implied, but I certainly did not get that sense. Does the presence of more male teachers directly benefit boys’ academic performances? I don’t know. Besides, such findings (if there’s any) would be somewhat inconclusive given how the profession is still dominated by women (sample sizes will never be big enough to make it conclusive).

    As a teacher of 14 years, I’ve taught at schools with incredibly diverse populations. I do feel and know that students (regardless of gender – but from a visible minority group), can relate easier with me. I’m not saying that I’m better than most teachers that belong outside of my background. I’m also not saying that anyone who happens to be female and Caucasian has been or are unsuccessful (in my experience). Far from it. There’s too many factors to consider. I do know one thing: the number of males and in particular from diverse ethnic backgrounds, NEED to grow – not for specific reasons (ie. improving boys’ academic performances, etc), but for the general health and well-being of the entire education system.

    I pulled the quote above because I kept re-reading it several times. Based on those facts, isn’t that an argument for the growth of male teacher hires? Below is a statement from an expert in discrimination and labour laws (from the G & M article):

    “Giving preference to designated groups who are underrepresented in the TDSB teacher complement could not only be non-discriminatory and legal but could also be part of an effort to stay within the law in terms of their staffing and hiring,” said Sonia Lawrence, an associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. “If groups – those named in the Federal Employment Equity Act, and those protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code – are underrepresented, the TDSB could be called to account for that, and to rebut the possibility of systemic or direct discrimination.”

    Eighteen years ago (while in 2nd year university), I applied to York’s Concurrent Education program. I remember being told my many who have applied before me that it was as difficult getting into these programs as med school. Although the comparison was a bit much, I did feel a tremendous amount of competition from those around me. It was intense.

    During my application stage, I looked into York’s Access Initiative. This program was available to members of visible minorities applying to their teachers’ college.

    For the longest time, I lamented whether I should forgo Access Initiative altogether. Quite honestly, I felt like I was cheating at the time – that I may get in because of the colour of my skin. It was hard. In the end, I completed the required essay and proceeded with my application. Although my volunteer experience was great and my marks were well above the minimum requirements, I employed the program and eventually got in. To this very day, I believe that I wouldn’t have been an educator without it and would gladly use it again if I were to apply to the same program today.

    Long story short, I think that balance must be achieved and the barriers to recruitment of well-qualified applicants from diverse groups should continue. I also believe that cream always rises to the top and that regardless of gender,race or physical abilities, everyone can still be an educator these days despite hiring mandates from school boards or any other industry for that matter.

    • Royan Lee February 24, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      Great comment.

  2. Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) February 24, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    As I wrote in the post “…and if the goal of the TDSB hiring practice was merely to redress this inequity, I’d understand it.”. If that’s all it is then I agree with it. I think the teaching profession should represent society in general and somewhat the population it serves. It clearly doesn’t. The main focus of my concern is the associated arguments it seems to have been attached to around boy’s academic achievement and feminization of the education system. I take no issue with quotas because they are seeking to redress unfairness. It’s like paying someone back for money that was stolen from them. And all quotas do is provide an opportunity. People still have to prove they can do the job.

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