It’s a man’s world

I’ve been working in primary schools for 8 and a bit years, and I’ve been in possession of a Y chromosome for 34 and a bit years.  The combination of the two is, I’ve discovered, considered by many to be a talking point.  Comments usually take one of three main forms:

·         Oh, how lovely (which is hard not to interpret as “Aw bless”, and goes hand in hand with a widely-held perception that primary teaching is easier);

·         That’s good – I bet there aren’t many male primary teachers (I mean, there’s five in my school, so while we’re still the minority, given that the teaching staff is 100% white and 100% straight, this hardly seems noteworthy);

·         That’s good – kids need positive male role models.

I’d like to dwell on the latter for a wee while if you’ll indulge me.

Firstly, I totally agree that kids do need positive male role models.  But then I’d argue that kids also need positive female role models.  There are too many rubbish adults in the world.*  This isn’t a “stop gendering everything” post though, no need to panic.  The lack of male role models is a bigger issue, because generally speaking**, in the lives of children who are short on role models, it’s a man who’s missing.  The issue I have is with what people actually mean when they say we need more positive male role models.  If you’ll allow me to expound my point based entirely on anecdotal evidence…***

On several occasions over the last 8 and a bit years, it’s become clear that what many people mean by “positive male role model” is that having a male teacher will be beneficial for their child/a particular child/children in general because men are stricter.

First of all, this is sailing dangerously close to “spare the rod, spoil the child” territory in my humble opinion.  The notion that a good, regular bollocking’s what people need in order to teach them mutual respect and self-motivation is flawed, to say the least.

Secondly, it’s horribly sexist against women.  The implication is that a female teacher isn’t capable of controlling unruly children, which is nonsense.  I’ve seen a few classes that had no respect for their teacher, always to the detriment of their learning and development, and in over half of these cases, the teacher was male.

Thirdly, it’s also pretty unpleasant in its expectations of men.  The suggestion is that while female teachers might be great for hugs and tear-wiping, male teachers are there for a bit of no-nonsense, stiff-upper-lip, drill sergeant schtick.  Speaking as someone who has cried in front of my class on the following occasions…

  • At the end of Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo (two separate occasions);
  • At the end of King Kong by Anthony Browne;
  • When telling my class that my mother in law had died;
  • At the end of Varjak Paw by SF Said (plus once near the beginning);
  • At the end of The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith;
  • At every Year 6 Leavers’ Service for the four years I was a Y5/6 teacher;
  • When telling children the basic plot outline of the film It’s a Wonderful Life.

…I feel that I am doing them a service – showing them a positive, healthy male role model – by not being afraid or ashamed of crying when I am moved by something sad or something touching.  It’s not controversial, I would hope, to say that boys who are told “men don’t cry” grow up to be angry men.

So in summary, yes, we need positive male role models, but not in the way that this is sometimes meant.  I believe that male teachers need to be aware of their responsibility to show that being a man can mean lifting heavy furniture or being a calm, solid presence, and it can also mean expressing emotion in healthy ways, and caring – really, really caring – about people and about the world.


* If you’re offended by that statement, then let me ask you – am I wrong? Is the world not full of rubbish adults? Buy a newspaper!

** I said generally speaking. No I don’t have the figures. Go away. 

*** If you’re not prepared to let me expound my point based entirely on anecdotal evidence then that’s fine.  Just don’t read any more of this post.  Have a beautiful day.

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