OPINION: The lost boys: Why male role models are needed more than ever

Boys need male teachers says Rachel Moore

Boys need male teachers says Rachel Moore - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Our boys are in crisis – and it looks like it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Boys get a raw deal, from the moment they charge into pre-school education, through school and into the jobs market.

Little boys behaving as nature dictates are constantly thwarted. Three and four-year-old boys are not wired to sit still, quietly and concentrate or colour in. They are made to tear around, burn off their excess energy and build stuff.

Boys being boys is frowned upon.

I’m not sure any of the above is good for little girls either, but they seem to get what’s expected of them in formal settings far earlier than boys do and learn to comply.

Often, by the time the penny drops with boys about the discipline and conduct school demands, it’s too late. They are labelled naughty, difficult and disruptive. They become disenfranchised, disillusioned and, later, a statistic.

For boys today, a male teacher in primary school is a novelty. Some never experience a male teacher until they reach high school.

Most Read

Now it’s becoming likely that they can go through their entire school career without encountering a male teacher. That is a dreadful indictment on how important we view our boys’ development.

For boys brought up by lone female parents, the lack of male role models, especially in environments they find testing, can only have a negative effect, and leave them at a huge disadvantage in life, particularly if they struggle with school.

Just 35 per cent of high school teachers were men in 2020 –a record low – and men make up only 30 per cent of those accepted on to initial teaching training programmes, a figure falling rapidly.

According to the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Essex University, more than a quarter of state schools do not have a male classroom teacher in six regions in England.

As a mother of two grown up sons, boys desperately need male teachers. It’s not a nice to have, it’s essential for their development and wellbeing.

A good male teacher who understands what makes boys tick and what they need, is worth his weight in gold.

Some women teachers are fabulous, but that’s not the point.

When my boys were in primary school, week after week girls won Star of the Week for being kind, helpful and always listening. Women teachers were quickly exasperated by the boys fizzing over with excitement and being, well, boyish.

I will remain ever grateful for the male teachers at secondary school who played key roles in shaping my sons into the men they have become – teachers they speak of fondly.

Interestingly, the most impact was by those who had swapped earlier careers for teaching.

An old schoolfriend of mine has just swapped a high-flying science career to retrain as a physics teacher. When he could call it a day and retire, he’s taking his experience of life work and fatherhood into the classroom to do good.

But many men wouldn’t touch teaching with a barge pole. Under-valued, overworked, put upon, abused by children and their parents, held in about as little public respect as tax inspectors.

Teaching has been a career ridiculed – those who can do and those who can’t teach – now also comes under the “too difficult” heading.

But speak to those who made a positive career choice into teaching and discover people fired by the difference they can make to lives, who give up hours outside work to run clubs, supporting children with difficulties and ironing out issues children face.

I love listening to my son’s old university friend who teaches English at a tough Liverpool high school. He is passionate, fun, engaging and, lucky to have been sprinkled with that rare magic personality that makes him relatable, interesting, and caring.

His pupils are lucky to have him.

I loathe the word vocation. Because someone is born to do something that positively impacts others implies it doesn’t deserve equivalent recompense of someone who suffers jobs like finance.

Making spreadsheets tally compared to inspiring young minds and helping children thrive? It should be a no brainer, but with teachers’ pay falling by more than nine per cent in real terms in the past decade and falling behind other professions, it’s hardly surprising.

According to the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Essex University, more than a quarter of state schools do not have a male classroom teacher in six regions in England.

Worldwide, boys are 50 percent less likely than girls to meet basic proficiency in reading, maths, and science. ADHD in boys is on the rise. And we all know about soaring suicide rates among young men.

Boys who grow up less-involved fathers and are more likely to drop out of school, drink, get involved in drugs, and end up in prison.

And boys are suffer a crisis of purpose, feeling alienated and withdrawn.

Constantly compared to girls being attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible, and more independent than boys by female teachers throughout their formative years, with no male role models, how can we be surprised?

A generation of lost boys cannot be allowed to happen.