March 9, 2018


We need to support more men to become primary teachers. Currently, only 10% of teachers in primary education are male.

Dr Ian Davis, Queensland University of Technology

Australia is facing a crisis within primary education: there will not be enough teachers to educate the booming population of children coming through.

A report commissioned by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) predicts we will need 443 more primary classes and 10,000 places over the next 10 years in Queensland, and 1,627 classes and 390,480 primary places nationally before 2025.

Yet, this increase in demand comes at a time when there is a chronic problem recruiting teachers – particularly male primary teachers. The gender imbalance is a key factor contributing to a shortage of teachers, which has become chronic and normalised.

Only 10% of teachers in primary education are male. This has remained unchanged for over 10 years. With so many demands being made on primary education in the next 10 years, we can no longer continue recruiting from restricted sources. But in order to address this problem, we need to investigate and face up to the complex and sometimes confronting reasons male teachers no longer choose primary education as a career.

The gender imbalance in the primary education workforce is a key reason for the current teacher shortage.

Roles and development

A research project in Queensland addresses the barriers to effective recruitment and retention of male teachers within primary education.

We have begun by examining the problem from a global perspective. We identified policy targeted initiatives to increase the number of male teachers in primary education in countries such as Nigeria, Croatia and New Zealand. To date, very little work has been commissioned in Australia to address the growing decline in male primary teachers.

Read more:
Male teachers are an endangered species in Australia: new research

In challenging our ideas of gender, what emerges from the global perspective is not surprising: there is no real agreement on what masculinity looks like. It’s not a fixed characteristic, but is instead locally produced, meaning different cultures conceptualise masculinity in different ways.

A study from Nigeria showed how, in Nigerian culture, it is women who are underrepresented in primary education. This supports a system of male inheritance in Nigeria, which determines who becomes educated and by whom.

In the West, primary teaching is perceived as less intellectual and more emotional than teaching in other areas.

Research from the US and Croatia has contradicted the belief children require access to certain types of gender roles at specific points in their development. Commonly, and incorrectly, we promote the notion this is necessary in order for children to develop correctly. In fact, this enables the perpetuation of culturally specific gender roles that support economic and political norms.

In a study from the US using attitudinal surveys, researchers discovered parents and students thought both boys and girls benefited emotionally and intellectually from a balanced representation of gender roles within their primary school experience.

A study from Croatia surveyed 844 primary schools and over 80,000 students. Researchers found while male teachers may experience different problems (such as suspicion or hostility) within the school setting, this had no effect on how students were able to achieve academically.

Sexuality and risk

Considering masculinity and the area of sexuality and risk can be confronting. What emerges from the research is that to achieve a level of comfort for all, male teachers become encouraged to exhibit a form of masculine identity that is considered “safe”.

Researchers from the US explain that in the West, primary teaching is perceived as less intellectual and more emotional than teaching in other areas. They describe a specific double bind where men who display characteristics that can be viewed as nurturing or gentle are often read as queer, and therefore deviant.

Even expressing the desire to teach children automatically throws a shadow on the ability of a man to meet the accepted requirements of Western masculinity. It becomes assumed other, darker, desires must be being met.

Read more:
We need to rethink recruitment for men in primary schools

So, in order to manage the boundaries that help keep children safe, we have created what they call “educational nunneries”, where the actors are mainly female, asexual and vocationally inspired. This is perceived as no place for any kind of man we would trust.

The research being undertaken in Queensland marks the beginning of a larger project which will develop recommendations that will enable a balanced representation of male teachers in early years teaching. The research aims to support the emergence of a workforce that can enhance and support the presence of multiple forms of masculinity within the primary education setting.

The ConversationIn order to prepare ourselves for the coming demands on our primary education system, we must act quickly to build a more balanced gender profile.

Dr Ian Davis, Lecturer – Scholarship of Learning and Teaching, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Share your comments below

  • I am fast approaching my 40s and, after a failed attempt a decade ago to become a teacher (I couldn’t afford to support myself while studying) I recently returned to study to become a teacher three years ago.

    My wife is currently a secondary school teacher and my direction of study has been in the fields of Psychology and Information Technology – subjects only taught in senior years. For me, I could not pass up the opportunity to learn in-depth how we, and in particular, children learn and hence my focus on Psychology. After all, if, as teachers, we don’t fully and deeply understand how children learn, then how can we really differentiate our teaching to suit those learning needs? From first moment I identified that i wished to be a teacher, I had no other vision other than teaching to secondary school students. I could not envision myself teaching and interacting, with enjoyment and a sense of rewarding self-gratification, primary aged students. In the last two years i’ve been fortunate enough to obtain some support work within a variety of different schools. My reasoning had been that for me to be an effective teacher, i needed experience working one-on-one with students who experienced learning difficulties or behavioural challenges.

    I initially started off supporting students in secondary schools before being approached by a primary school to work exclusively with one male student who had been kicked out of seven different primary schools (all by the age of 8). The last school the student had attended, he had stabbed another student with a pair of scissors and kicked a pregnant teacher in the stomach. He was viewed as a lost cause by almost everyone. I refused to believe that any child could or should ever be considered as a lost cause and so i agreed to work with him.

    Over time, it became evident that the student lacked a suitable and stable male role model. He primarily lived with his grandmother, his mother, his two half-sisters, his aunt and his six female cousins. His mother, whenever she found herself a new boyfriend, would leave him for periods ranging from two months to three years while she lived with her new boyfriend and his two half-sisters. In the family unit, the student ‘ruled the roost’, dictating to all and becoming violent when remotely challenged. I was present when he kicked his grandmother repeatedly in the shin for no other reason than he was bored. His grandmother informed me, after i had explained to the student that it was not appropriate, that she just tried to ignore it and didn’t want to discipline him because she feared his reactions.

    This tendency towards unchecked physical abuse flowed through into his interactions with students and teachers at school – he did not perceive a reason for limiting or restricting his behaviour and acted as he wished when he wished. The only people who had any effect on his behaviour were ‘strong’ male teachers who he came to respect their authority.

    In this respect, the necessity for male teachers in primary schools is, perhaps somewhat understated. There is a obvious and definite need for nurturing and mothering female teachers and, to balance this, strong authoritative male teachers. Although this is definitely stereotyping and, in some superficial ways, gender discriminatory, the reality is that not all family dynamics are capable of providing both aspects (male and female) for a child.

    I was immensely surprised at how much i thoroughly enjoyed my time working with primary aged students, to the point where I’m seriously reconsidering whether to continue focussing upon secondary teaching or reap the rewards of teaching in a primary school environment. If i had not had the opportunity to work with primary aged students, i never would have realised how enjoyable and rewarding it could be and, i believe that this is likely the same for other male teachers – they simply may not know how enjoyable teaching to primary school students can be.

    I can’t help but believe, after my own experiences, that a more ‘apprenticeship’ type approach to student teachers should be developed, with the incorporation and necessity for teachers to at least experience every environment – early learning, primary, middle and secondary. Even if there is only 0.1% of student teachers who decide to change from teaching secondary to teaching primary, that alone would be a significant increase!

    Part of the difficulty i have observed with male teachers in primary school environments is exactly as detailed above – male teachers are often predominantly of non-heterosexual persuasion, too scared of potential issues and claims to be heterosexual or, hiding an alterior motive. There are very few openly heterosexual male primary school teachers who have no alterior motive and who aren’t scared to deal with claims and innuendo. For these teachers, primary school teaching is inordinately more stressful as a result and, from a certain perspective, which person would really want to put themselves under unnecessary, undue and added pressure? It’s not worth it. Just the unfounded and baseless accusations levelled at a male teacher can entirely end their career and leave them and their families scarred for life.

    Ultimately though, while it might be nice to have more male teachers ideally teaching within a primary school environment, I think the main focus should always continue to be on one thing – what is best for the children. This then breaks this issue into one question – “Is the risk of having male teachers in primary schools abuse children worth the benefit they can provide to those children by being a male teacher and role model in a primary school?” – risk vs benefit. It’s not a simple question to answer and, I don’t believe there is one easy conclusive answer. However, until this sort of question can be honestly and openly discussed, there is never likely to be a decent resolution.


  • We need good, caring teachers, whether male or female.


  • I don’t agree with this entirely. The best teachers are the ones who are going to do the best job regardless of whether they are male or female. My kids have had a string of pretty rotten teachers over the years from both sexes, who were tired, burnt out and not motivated to inspire kids. Why don’t we prioritise teaching university entry ranks like in Scandi countries where only the best and competitive minds have access to undertake this most important position?


  • The best people to become teachers are those with a passion to teach and pass on the joy of learning to pupils. This can be male or female, but a present this trait seems to be lacking in all teachers. It seems to be seen as a dead end job with no good outcome – is it any wonder our children are falling behind and not learning like they once did.


  • This is part of a bigger problem if girls move into more ‘masculine’ roles there will be a flow on of men moving into more ‘feminine’ roles. We need the best teachers teaching our kids and the more people want to do it the better the selection pool will be.


  • Yes, we definitely need more male teachers (and also in the care more male nurses) !


  • Less Males are becoming teachers because of the fear of being accused of sexual assault or sexual harrassment.


  • Let’s hope more and more people will embrace this gratifying career! :-)


  • My 13 year old nephew wants to be a Primary teacher and I very much hope he achieves it. I love watching him teaching my four year old son.


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