The Age

Abuse fear for male teachers

By CAROLYN JONES
EDUCATION CORRESPONDENT
The Age
Thursday 2 December 1999

Young male teachers increasingly fear being called paedophiles, nerds or "not a real man" and this could be why some are reluctant to become teachers, according to academic researchers.

An Australian Catholic University survey of final-year male teaching students found the fear of being labelled a child abuser and the demand of being a male role model in a predominantly female environment were negative aspects of their work.

The survey was carried out as part of a three-stage research study with the Sydney Catholic Education Office to examine why men do and don't enter teaching.

University researchers Associate Professor Jude Butcher and Mr Ed Lewis headed the study, which included in-depth interviews with eight final-year primary teaching students.

Professor Butcher said the number of males training as primary teachers appeared to be declining, with year-12 boys not regarding teaching, especially primary teaching, as a worthwhile career.

They presented their findings at the Australian Association for Research in Education's annual conference in Melbourne.

One of the students surveyed said the issue of child abuse was always at the back of his mind and was something he worried about.

"He was concerned that he could no longer even put his hand on a child's shoulder in order to comfort or make a child take notice," Professor Butcher said.

Some students were concerned that parents viewed them with suspicion, but others believed that having more male teachers might encourage fathers to take more of an interest in their child's education and the school.

Professor Butcher said education employers were concerned about the low numbers of men in primary education and declining male enrolments in teacher education programs. Some states, including Victoria and Queensland, were encouraging more males to consider teaching.

The student teachers surveyed all spoke positively about their reasons for entering the profession, saying they wanted to care for and help children. They also saw themselves fulfilling a masculine role in schools -- even though many female teachers expected them to carry out sport, computer maintenance and handyman duties.

"It was significant that participants did not view the fulfilling of masculine roles negatively," Professor Butcher said.

One of the students surveyed asked if it was really worth going through four years of study, "going out there teaching for a couple of years when one incident which is probably totally innocent could jeopardise your whole career. A kid goes home and tells his parents and it is your word against theirs".

Copyright (c) David Syme & Co 1999.