Male teachers in Canada primary grades

by Angelica Blenich - Canada

Jim Hopkins strolls through the playground outside of Stuart Baker Elementary School. The sounds of children playing fill the air as school buses roll into the parking lot and students prepare to head home for the day.

Hopkins spots a young boy walking next to the slide with a large piece of driftwood in his hands.

He makes his way over to the student.

"Do you think this is a good choice or a bad choice?" he asks.

"Bad choice," the student answers quickly while handing over the wood.

Before Hopkins can discard the log the young boy has skipped off, heading back to his friends.

No argument made, no yelling heard, not a single tear shed.

For Hopkins, it's just another day on the job. For the students at SBES it's just another sign of a teacher who for many has become a role model.

The athletic director at Stuart Baker, Hopkins is one of three male teachers at a school that goes from junior kindergarten to Grade 3. As a male teacher in a primary school Hopkins is a rare breed.

According to a 2008 Statistics Canada report, males account for only about 28 per cent of all teachers. At the primary-junior levels females account for 90 per cent of all teachers in Ontario.

At Stuart Baker there are three male teachers, including Hopkins, making up approximately 25 per cent of the faculty body.

Hopkins has been teaching for over 20 years, 18 of which have been spent in a primary classroom.

For Hopkins, the decision to become a teacher came after a slew of circumstances that led him to a lifetime of education.

"I realized university wasn't for me and that I wasn't ready for it," said Hopkins, "so I became an education assistant for a year and that was my introduction. I loved it."

Educated as a high-school geography and science teacher, Hopkins transitioned to primary grades after a dose of reality.

"I fell in love and got married and needed a job," said Hopkins. "I was teaching in an outdoor ed centre for five years but my income was very low.

"I moved to Haliburton after I got married and took a job in Gooderham at the elementary school."

Dan Lee, the music director at SBES, is in his 31st year of teaching. He has spent almost half of his career teaching in primary-junior schools.

"I pretty much decided at the end of high school I wanted to be a teacher," said Lee.

"I was heading to be a music teacher, I knew that was what I wanted to do. However, at the time there were no jobs and I ended up heading to the Northwest Territories and worked for 20 years in education. It was wanting to teach music that got me into a primary school," said Lee, "because I was a vocal music specialist and that's where most of the vocal music happens."

"I didn't intend on teaching primary, but when I was offered a position at the high school later on I said no way," said Hopkins. "This is the best. I would never leave this."

A recent report released by the Nipissing University Schulich School of Education analyzes the importance of having male teachers in primary grades and some of the barriers these teachers face.

Titled The Professional Journey of Male Primary-Junior Teachers in Ontario, the study involved three years of research, a survey of 223 teachers and multiple interviews.

The report found that 91.3 per cent of survey respondents feel that more male teachers should be hired for the primary-junior grades.

Asked why they believe there are so few male teachers in these grades, Hopkins believes it may play into the common traits associated with being a male.

"When they're young you really have to be careful and gentle with them," said Hopkins. "The high school kids can handle tough stuff but for little kids everything is a major trauma. You can never take anything lightly."

Matt Beaton has spent the past three years teaching Grades 4 and 6 at J.D. Hodgson Elementary School. For Beaton the decision to become a primary teacher was an easy one.

"I always really enjoyed working with the little guys," said Beaton who taught Grades 1 through 3 during his practicum. "Part of the reason why is because I had heard increasingly more kids don't have both parents at home anymore and they need male role models in the schools and I thought I would take that on."

"I think it's great that they have male role models at this age because very often they don't," said Lee. "For some males there may be a stigma attached to relating to kids at this level. They may be less comfortable with it."

The stigma attached to teaching at a primary level is intertwined with the perception that men are less nurturing than woman according to the report, resulting in another barrier faced by male teachers.

"I think many mothers would prefer their child to have a female teacher," said Lee.

"Male teachers offer a different style of role model than many students may be familiar with. For many young boys they're expecting a male teacher to be exactly like dad. And that doesn't always happen. They begin to get exposed to the notion that there are many different types of guys out there and that's a positive thing.

"We're few in numbers but I do think we have an effect."

"I know that in terms of styles of teaching kids react a lot differently to a male than a female," said Beaton.

For Beaton, the lack of males entering primary grades could be traced back to teachers' college, where the ratio between female and male students was significant and noticeable.

"In the intermediate and high school section there were a lot more guys," said Beaton. "It was like 50-50."

The discrepancy around the lack of men in the classroom begs the question of whether an emphasis on producing more male primary teachers should be examined throughout Ontario.

For Beaton, Hopkins and Lee it isn't about focusing on gender so much as it being about producing top quality teachers.

"For me, it's the teacher, it's not the sex," said Hopkins.

"Yes, I agree," said Beaton.

"I want to see somebody who loves kids," said Hopkins.

"Someone who has energy and a willingness to do things outside of the classroom," said Beaton. "Your primary focus has to be that you're there for the kids."

"I think that we all need good role models," said Hopkins. "Just hire the people who love the people."

November 9, 2010

Go to website.