‘It’s cushy to be a male primary school teacher’

A Y-chromosome makes male teachers instantly visible in a primary schools.

It also benefits them enormously; they are over-represented as school leaders while women are over-represented as cleaners, midday assistants, teaching assistants and dinner ladies. I could produce for you a salacious moan-rant about how hard it is being a man in a female-dominated profession and how sad it is that my masculine needs (of which I have many) are not being met, but I shall not be doing that, because it is – on reflection – quite cushy to be a male primary school teacher.

Let’s be clear. To be a man in a patriarchal society confers unjust privilege on every man who teaches, no matter how egalitarian, counter-normative or pro-feminist his actions and persuasions. By virtue of having a Y-chromosome and a PGCE, I am visible and perceived as different from the majority of my colleagues. This benefits me enormously (unlike the situation in which visible women in male-dominated professions have additional struggles). Statistically, I am more likely to be promoted, to the point of headship; as a percentage of the primary teaching workforce, men are over-represented at the top.

It is curious to think of the implicit messages staff demographics in primary schools broadcast to
young minds

For many children, their schools are their only exposure to social interaction outside home. It is curious to think of the implicit messages that staff demographics in primary schools broadcast to these young minds. Sir wears a suit and makes big decisions while Miss wears a custard-sodden apron and sweeps cabbage off the floor.

When reflecting on our year together, one of my Year 5s from last year told me that when he found I was going to be his teacher, his response was “He’s a Sir. He’s gonna be so strict.” From the times I have been asked to take sports teams to events, despite having all the athleticism of Barry Chuckle, to the countless occasions I have been called upon to fix overhead projectors, it is clear that “being a man” carries a certain weight of expectation. Despite clear evidence of my paunch and the fact that my class is packed to the gills with cuddly sloths, I still am asked to take sports sessions and whip out my punitive frown to deliver a telling-off. This is despite the female teachers next door jogging daily and being considerably better at maintaining the “disciplinary teacher face” than me.

There is a danger that as a rogue man in the staffroom, male primary teachers think that their work is already done with regards gender equality. They are there in the classroom, teaching the reading, doing the counting and helping the kids – they are already restoring the gender balance by choosing to teach phonics rather than being… I dunno, a plumber, right?

Perhaps, I posit, “but I teach primary!” could be to men what “but I have a black friend!” is to white people – a phrase in the imperative mood that means “How can I be in the wrong here? I’m one of the good guys!” Lamentably, those who perpetuate unfair systems most effectively are not those vocally defending them but those just ambling along absent-mindedly, doing as they have always done because it is what they know.

I would be lying if I claimed to have written this piece from the moral high-ground of a fully-reformed individual who has eschewed his privilege. My career progression is going very well and I consistently get the best festive gifts from kids. I get an extra half-slice of flapjack when school dinner is dished up.

The fact I am even writing this article about gender privilege is probably a spoil of my own gender privilege. If a woman were to write similar things, perhaps she would be bombarded with the full raft of misogynist and anti-feminist barbs that are directed against women who criticise the comportment of men. As such, I will make full use of this fortunate position to end with a plea.

Men. We all need to check our behaviour, actions, language and privilege if we are to be part of the solution rather than an obstacle.

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  1. I qualified as a primary teacher in later life and I think as a middle aged male trainee I experienced more discrimination than a younger male or mature female would have. I think there was this assumption that there must be something wrong with me to go into teaching late. There was also the expectation that I was a bit thick – senior members of staff talking to me slowly and quite loud etc.

  2. Just a few stats from a longtime primary school volunteer in north east Scotland:
    1) Cleaners, now as many men as women, if not more
    2) Headteachers, I have seen 3 promoted from the staff, 2 women locally and a man to another school. The primary headteachers have always been mainly women and now the balance has shifted to 50-50 for the secondary.
    3) Janitors (dying breed) always male but like posties allegedly a female one in the town. I think PC means that at least a token one is appointed
    4) Teachers. There was only one young man when my kids first came to this single form school then as its expanded and there´s been a shortage of teachers there are now three.
    5) There´s part-time visiting music and drama teachers who are male.

    • M. Willis

      As still in secondary school myself, and with siblings in primary school I quite agree with you. This arrival is flawed. Male teaching staff is slowly dying out, very few men are deciding to become teachers at all, and the majority of men within primary schools are either janitors/caretakers or teaching higher year groups. Throughout my entire education I have had 5 male teachers, and 1 headteacher, who only replaced the previous female head teacher due to his long-term dedication to the school.
      This article goes along with many stereotyoes, saying “he’s a sir, he’s going to be strict” when of he 5 male teacher I have had only 1 was strict and 3 of them being some of the most entertaining teacher I have ever had.

  3. Have you tried to become a primary teacher; it might be easy if female but as a male your chances of even getting to interview stage are near zero. After 10 years and many applications not a single interview. Primary trained with both a arts and science degree and PhD. Governors and Headteachers only want a female workforce.

  4. Primary schools do appear to be of a mind of recruiting women. What are women doing to support minority white males get jobs in our primary schools? I’d be interested to see the 5 year plan positive white male recruitment plan ? Thats the only way kids can get the chance to see sir struggle with the photocopier and be assisited by burly miss