Toronto Star

Tuesday, August 24, 1999

Now men aren't teaching high school either

Gender gap seen in elementary schools spreads

By Kristin Rushowy
Toronto Star Education Reporter

Where are all the men?

It's a question that has been asked in elementary schools for decades, where female teachers have always outnumbered males. But now it's a question education officials are asking when they look at high schools.

As it stands now, fewer than one in three Ontario teachers is a man and that gap is expected to grow even wider as a glut of older teachers, a lot of them men, retires.

The dwindling numbers of male high school teachers first appeared several years ago, said Margaret Wilson, registrar of the Ontario College of Teachers.

``Nobody had noticed. Everybody was very much focused on the primary grades and the lack of male role models in a society where lots of kids don't have male role models,'' she said. ``We started looking at things and saw men walking away from teaching.''

Some male teachers may be leaving for higher-paying jobs in the private sector, or not even considering a career in teaching because they have better options in the labour market.

``If you look at the disciplines where you used to have a higher proportion of male teachers - sciences, math - a lot of those are disciplines where the salary in the private sector is higher than you can earn as a teacher,'' said Liz Sandals, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.

Robert Miller, who has taught at Central Technical School in Toronto for his 31-year career and is now assistant head of English, agrees, but also thinks there's another reason.

``I think the glamour of being a teacher isn't there any more,'' he said. ``It's not one of those very prestigious jobs it used to be. We're not respected by the public as much as we have been in the past.''

In the late 1970s, one in three elementary teachers was male; male secondary teachers actually outnumbered females two to one. Today the gender gap is still most apparent in elementary schools, where one in nine teachers is male.

At the high school level, it's about one in two. But here's the catch: Fifty-nine per cent of male high school teachers are 55 years or older, and many are eligible to retire under the province's early retirement incentive. There aren't, however, younger ones there to take their places, as men under the age of 30 make up just 33 per cent of all male secondary teachers.

Fewer men are continuing to apply to faculties of education in Ontario. Last year, they accounted for just 28 per cent of applicants and 27 per cent of registered students, according to statistics from the Ontario Universities' Application Centre.

At the University of Toronto, females made up two-thirds of students in the intermediate-senior stream at its faculty of education last year.

``There are some particular subject areas where you notice the shift,'' said Ian Hundey, co-ordinator of secondary pre-service (teacher education) programs at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at U of T.

`We're not going to have enough teachers, period'

``Ten years ago, we were proactive in looking at female candidates in science areas, and now even in those science areas there are more females than males. It's the kind of shift that is noticeable.''

He said part of it is a reflection on the general pool of university students, which is mostly female.

``It's just a question of how long that pattern will hold. I would feel uncomfortable if this imbalance went on. We like to see balance - it's good for us, good for the kids and good for schools.''

Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation head Earl Manners believes this is part of a bigger problem: ``It's not a question of not having enough male teachers, we're not going to have enough teachers, period.''

The Ontario College of Teachers believes educators ``must make a concerted effort to attract men into the profession,'' especially at the high school level, said Wilson.

Susan McGrath, equity adviser at the Toronto District School Board, said, ``It's a shame men aren't attracted more and more to the profession,'' adding that the former Toronto board had a special leave plan in place for male employees who wanted to study to become an elementary teacher.

There are many reasons why males haven't flocked to teaching elementary school: The idea of working with young children has traditionally been considered women's domain; some fear being wrongly accused of child abuse; and some of the prerequisites for teaching, such as babysitting or camp counselling, are jobs females tend to do before university.

The University of Toronto has been working hard on its admission policy, said David Booth, co-ordinator of the elementary pre-service program.

He said he does expect to see more males applying as teaching jobs open up because of retirements. But, for now, one factor taken into account when choosing students for the elementary stream is gender, he said, and, given two equal candidates for a position, the male gets it.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has focus groups and plans to create a task force to study how to attract more male teachers.

Rebecca Coulter of the University of Western Ontario's faculty of education is not convinced that a lack of male teachers is a problem. She said there's no research evidence that male role models make a difference to young boys.

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