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Gadfly on the Wall: The Hidden Bias Against Male Teachers

No one wants to be the disciplinarian.

Not at the expense of being a teacher.

Often you need to do the one so you can do the other. After all, it’s difficult to teach a class that can’t listen or sit or refrain from arguing.

But that’s the role men are often given in the field of public education.

We’re the disciplinarians – especially of male students.

We’re consistently given more students with perceived behavioral issues, with more histories of suspensions, and we’re given less administrative support than female teachers.

It’s not fair at all.

Many of these kids are suffering from poverty, malnutrition and/or trauma. Putting them in a room with a male authority figure cannot solve all of their problems. Yet that’s what happens more often than not.

Male teachers are not seen as teachers first and foremost. We’re the enforcers of school rules. And it’s driving so many of us from the field or discouraging even more from entering it in the first place.

Consider this: teaching is a female dominated field.

According to the National Center for Education statistics, 77% of public school teachers were female and 23 percent were male in 2020–21 – the most recent year for which there is data.

It’s worse at the elementary school level where only about one in ten teachers (11 percent) are male. However, things are not much better at the secondary level where less than 4 out of 10 teachers (36 percent) are male.

And these statistics have remained roughly the same for at least a decade.

It’s not true just in the United States. Around the world men are underrepresented especially in the elementary school education workforce. So much so that a 2017 article in the Economics of Education Review wondered, “Are male teachers headed for extinction? The 50-year decline of male teachers in Australia.”

This has both an academic and social impact on male students who look to male teachers as role models. Without a positive male influence in the classroom, boys tend to see education as distinctly feminine and either out of reach for them or something that they should not even be trying to accomplish. Moreover, male teachers demonstrate ways that men can interact in a nonviolent way especially toward women. Their very presence can promote a new conception of masculinity that is gender equitable and solves problems through reason, agreement and team building.

Not to mention that the idea of male teachers as being primarily disciplinarians has no basis in fact. It is a gender stereotype as much as women being more nurturing and suited to childcare. In the field of education it only sets up expectations that men should be sent more students with behavioral issues and that their natural maleness will somehow bring about a solution.

Such attitudes are harmful to male teachers careers.

After all, too firm a focus on student discipline reduces teachers job satisfaction and the likelihood that educators will stay in the field until retirement.

Student misbehavior is a main source of teacher stress and burnout. When administrators give them fewer honors courses and/or fill their classes with more difficult students, it create a more hostile work environment for them and thus increases turnover.

Even expectations for male teachers’ own behaviors are different. While female teachers can be expected to have a variety of personas, men are expected to be strict, rule followers who will not let students get away with anything – and any deviation from this expectation can result in negative evaluations and lower administrative reviews.

The result is lower job satisfaction. Male teachers can feel frustrated due to so much of their time having to focus on discipline issues and so little of it being able to focus on actual instruction. This is especially true in districts where principals, deans and others do not properly support classroom disciplinary decisions.

When a classroom teacher sends a student to the office after numerous redirections and finds that the student is sent back almost immediately with only a warning, it can be incredibly demoralizing. As if the classroom teacher is incapable of a warning, himself!? Numerous steps have already been taken to correct the behavior before it was sent to the next step for higher order discipline of which the classroom teacher does not have the authority to conduct. When such support is lacking, the classroom teacher feels helpless and alone.

Then there’s the issue of being effective as a teacher. When there’s little time for anything but discipline, much instruction is lost. So many male teachers feel ineffective and are judged as being ineffective because of circumstances beyond their control. They were not set up for success but blamed for the situation they were given. And this results in higher turnover.

Corinne Moss-Racusin, an associate professor of psychology at Skidmore College and lead researcher, said: 

“There’s no evidence that men are biologically incapable of doing this work or that men and women are naturally oriented toward different careers. It’s a detriment to society if we keep slotting people into gendered roles and stay the course on gender-segregated career paths, regardless of whether those jobs are traditionally associated with women or men. That’s a powerful way of reinforcing the traditional gender status quo.”

In closing, I must admit this was a hard article for me to write.

Just broaching the subject feels like whining. Black teachers – especially black male teachers – experience the same problem to an even greater degree. And women teachers experience their own types of bias and sexism. However, none of that erases the unfairness male teachers endure often in silence until they’ve had enough and slink away from a career they once cherished like the sun, itself.


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Steven Singer

Steven is a husband, father, teacher, and education advocate.