Mum in the city: Looking for the lost men

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Sonya Fladun
Sonya Fladun
FOR a long time it appears male teachers have been going the way of the dinosaur.

In public primary schools across NSW less than one in five teachers are male and, in some regions, the number is as low as 15 per cent. It’s pretty much the same picture across Australia.

The number of male teachers in secondary schools is better, 43 per cent in NSW, and better also in private schools.

However, there’s no denying the long-term trend in which the teaching profession has failed to recruit and retain male teachers.

Now, please, to all those wonderful, dedicated female teachers out there to whom we all owe so much, this is so not a criticism.

It’s just in my experience, kids generally learn by example and the balance of our teaching workforce is hugely important.

My nearly seven-year-old girl had a wonderful female teacher for three years in a row. I’m sure she is channelling her much-loved mentor every time she lectures me on the importance of planning, organisation and focus.

However, speaking also as a mum of an energetic, outgoing boy – boys are just different. They seem to learn in different ways; often strongly physical in their behaviour; can’t sit still and can be totally disorganised and lack focus. Language and reading can come more slowly to them.

Boys do things differently and sometimes this doesn’t always fit neatly with the school syllabus or a female-dominated teaching profession.

If you are lucky enough to have a boy and that boy has ever latched on to a male teacher, you will understand the huge importance of positive male role models in schools.

Male teachers provide a point of reference to which boys can readily refer when other male role models they see on television or admire on the sporting field leave a lot to be desired.

There are a lot of reasons for males choosing not to teach and I’m not going to try and tease these out here.

But for the sake of all those kids who would benefit from a balance of positive role models in the classroom, let’s hope our education policy makers don’t continue to let this go through to the keeper.

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  1. Interesting article. There are, I suppose, many reasons for the number of male teachers declining. A few years ago, I attempted to get a Dip Ed. (I am male), and get into teaching. At the time, I was running evening adult education classes on a casual basis (Cert IV Training & Assessing), and my wife( a Secondary schools teacher at the time) encouraged me to get into teaching f/t. To cut a long story short, I was taught, at the Dip Ed. course, that due to many regulations, teachers of any gender cannot threaten, cajole, touch, or even mildly reprimand a child without risking having the child scream abuse, or make any accusation/manipulation – that must, by law, be taken seriously. For example, my wife, while on playground duty, when telling a student to remain in the play area, was then threatened by the child – he would call the police and sue her for abuse is she tried to stop him going where he wanted. My wife managed to bluff him out of going ‘out of bounds’ by saying she could counter-sue him.

    You have, I assume, heard of ‘Stranger – Danger’ lessons to protect children from potential molesters? If a male teacher told children to stop hiding in the toilets during class and took them back to class, who would be believed? The male teacher enforcing truancy regulations, or the ‘crying(?)’, manipulative child telling his parents, and everyone else that ‘he molested me’?
    Parents rarely disbelieve their own children. The child can do no harm, and the police take these accusations seriously.
    It is difficult enough being a teacher, even more difficult if you are a male teacher.
    No wonder the numbers of male teachers are reducing.
    I did not complete the Dip Ed – its dangerous for male teachers to be out there.

  2. Just read your piece on male teachers. It is difficult being a teacher, male or female. We have lost many males due to society and its view on males full stop. Male discrimination is growing in all work areas and teaching is no different. In reference to a young male who was seated next to two young children on a flight was asked to seat elsewhere . When asked why he was told because he was male. What is this world coming to. Once again males being discriminated against just because they are male. My older son is studying to fulfil his goal to become a teacher. I know there will be hurdles just because he is male. I know he has the makings of a good teacher.
    I am also a teacher and see many children, particularly boys with behaviour issues. These boys need good role models. We need male teachers back in our schools, our boys need male teachers. Boys do learn differently.Who has a good understanding of another male but a male. Great article !

  3. In New South Wales, a teacher, who is accused of inappropriate actions against students, is subject to an investigation by police, DOCS and by the employer. The laws are convoluted and, with so many hands in the fire, all determined to be squeaky clean and comprehensive in their investigations, the real victim can be and often is not the accuser but the accused.
    Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing worse than those who prey on children and whose actions leave their victims with permanent psychological damage. Such actions never leave the victims and often the result, sometimes many years and even decades later, leave the victims unable to fulfill the potential they may have shown. Child abuse is the worst of crimes.
    There is, however, another side to the story. It is a fact that there are many children who are very aware of their rights, the laws regarding abuse and, for the purpose of this paper, most importantly the effect that an accusation will have on a teacher who may not be liked by the student.
    The prime example, documented in NSW parliament Hansard, is the tragic story of a Temora High School teacher, Mr Mathew McDermott, who was directed by a senior teacher to supervise a game of touch football with a team of female students. He voiced his opinion that it was not appropriate for him to participate but was over ruled. During the game a particular student swore deliberately at Mr McDermott.
    Next day he was informed that he had been suspended for misbehaviour. He was taunted by some of the students who had made complaints about him and subsequently Matthew was told of four complaints made against him. Two of the complaints related to incidents which allegedly occurred during the conduct of the football match. The third complaint related to a student vaguely recalling a massage to her back and running of fingers through her hair. The fourth complaint related to a claim that Matthew looked down the front of a student’s blouse whilst checking her school work.
    Four days after the alleged misbehaviour, the girls were seated in a room together to write their accusations. It was the ultimate opportunity to corrupt any impartial investigation.
    After being suspended for twelve months whilst the investigation was underway, the real victim of these vicious and thoughtless girls committed suicide. He was terrified that the matter would drag on longer and he just couldn’t take it. I understand that the four girls admitted that the accusations were false – after the suicide.
    Mr O’Doherty, the then member for Kuringgai, in a debate about the Child Protection Act, stated that he had received many letters from accused teachers. One in particular, from a very experienced private music teacher and band music director, stated:-
    In my long teaching career, I am aware only of the most trivial of allegations stemming from my exuberance and friendliness as a teacher. Such allegations were thoroughly investigated and I was exonerated of any suggestion of improper behaviour.
    This man was suspended while the investigation took place. He was only informed (by the assistant director of education) that an allegation had been made against him. There was little detail other than the alleged incident had taken place some time in the past.
    Mr O’Doherty concluded his contribution to the debate with the following words
    However, we are concerned also with restoring reasonable teaching practices in our schools so that the people against whom allegations are made can reasonably expect those allegations to be dealt with properly and in accordance with fair and just practices. Many unintended consequences have arisen because of the witch-hunt mentality that has developed as a result.

    This debate took place on 27th October 1998. Very little has changed since. The laws are still a mess and the methods of investigation of such accusations are still simply appalling.

    Take the case of a Riverina music teacher who was well regarded within his community. He was standing in a college music room when a fourteen year old music student walked in. The teacher asked her why she had not attended a rehearsal of a band the previous weekend. She walked up to him and in front of two staff witnesses gave him a hug. His reaction was to push her away. ?She stayed talking to the staff members for several minutes and was then told to go to the class she was missing. She was late and needed an excuse. She told the teacher that the music teacher had assaulted her.
    He was immediately suspended and given duties which did not have contact with any children. The girl subsequently began boasting that she “had him up on sexual harassment charges”. Being a small community of musicians the rumour soon spread and other accusations, this time of showing some boys some pornography – the domino effect. The subsequent investigations by the police stated that he had nothing to answer and that the accusations were obviously false. The DOCS report on the matter also found nothing to pursue.
    However, the NSW legislation puts the responsibility for the investigations onto the employer. In this case a regional music school. It was found, however that the laws had a flaw and that the institution involved was not covered by the Child Protection Act. The Ombudsman then created a joint investigation with the private school office of the place where the alleged incident took place and the regional music school.
    This investigation had been threatened with legal action by the police because they had contaminated evidence by interviewing witnesses before the police had had an opportunity to do so. Dates and details of the interviews were subsequently altered to ensure that both institutions were squeaky clean.
    The investigators allocated to this enquiry began with the intent of proving the music teacher guilty. They were inexperienced in interviewing and it was apparent that witnesses were led through their testimony and ideas planted. Critical questions which would have immediately dismissed the accusations were not asked.
    Critically, one of the staff witnesses was moved from her duties and the other, a retired school principal, was never interviewed.
    Two weeks after the alleged incident the girl walked up to another music teacher and hugged him also. He was terrified and was advised to write a statutory declaration of the event in case there were similar repercussions. Another music teacher stated that the girl had talked constantly about another teacher being her “boyfriend”. She was also known for her bullying of other female students.
    The investigation found that he was “guilty” of the accusations and registered four level one categories against him. This infers guilty on all charges. It means that the accused would never work with children again.
    The flawed investigation came under criticism and between the accused and his support , the local member of parliament and the ombudsman, a reinvestigation was ordered. This “independent” investigator arrived on a Friday morning, interviewed the support person (in the presence of his wife) for four hours. She then interviewed the accused for five hours. This interview was recorded for transcription.The investigator had been informed that her report had to be in on the following Monday – with transcripts. She sent the tapes to an appropriate person for transcription and wrote her report from memory. Many of the critical facts were changed, many character witness letters were disparaged, and when the report was submitted on time, critical sections of the transcript were omitted and/or altered.
    The Act requires that the investigation must be carried out in a timely fashion as a person’s reputation, career and, indeed as in the McDermott case, his life hangs in the balance. Freedom of Information documents indicated that there were deliberate delays on the part of the investigators and that chronological documents were deliberately shuffled, often with the dates blacked out, to confuse the accused.
    Again the investigation was found to be flawed and a third try at finding the truth of the matter was attempted. The timely-ness of this eventually extended to six years with the accused being totally exonerated. The damage had been done, however, and the teacher was never able, contrary to the Child Protection Guidelines, to return to his career.
    Whist this was taking place the accused had been suspended – without pay – against the legislation and he, in order to pay his bills had to sign away his employment. He could not receive social security since he was legally employed.
    His support person, working for the same employer, found his employment came under pressure and eventually he was forced to resign. The employer, however, kept up the pressure and neither the accused nor the support person has been able to earn more than a scant living in their professions within the region since.
    The NSW Minister of Education recommended that the employer should be investigated for corruption by the ACCC, but it was found that their jurisdiction did not cover them.
    This case is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many cases in which people have been falsely accused and have been exonerated. We do not hear about them because the accused, by the time investigations have been finalised, have either changed careers, left the country or committed suicide. It is certain that not many of them are free to return to their employment free of the stigma of sticking mud.
    It appears that Australia does not keep the statistics necessary to ensure that laws are changed. In the UK, however, having had a similar inadequate system of investigation as we still have, have kept statistics and have changed the laws to ensure that any such matter is dealt with, not by do gooder employers, but by the police who carry out proper and professional investigations in confidence. If the accused is found innocent by a court of law, they are entitled to return to duty without a having to suffer the limbo of uncertainty.
    In the UK (and with similar statistics in Canada and the USA) it has been found that 73% of accusations against teachers are false, 19% are un-determined and only 4% are found to be guilty. There is no reason to think that Australian statistics would be far from these figures.

    Why would any male take up teaching whilst such appalling consequences can and frequently do occur.

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