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27 mei 2014

Male schoolteachers are an extinct breed

‘School teachers have an easy job; short working hours and six holiday weeks during the summer. They don’t have to work in cubicles and can bring the children out of the class when the sun is shining. But there’s a darker side to the school system and it’s the male teachers that are suffering. JOEP DERKSEN reports.
When children go to school, they usually have reached the not so ripe age of 4 years. Most of them are potty trained, but accidents are bound to happen. Talking with these post-toddlers about cars and women is not possible; they don’t care about those kinds of topics. The next eight years these kids go to the elementary school to learn how to read and write, and get some basic knowledge on history, math and, with a little luck, acquire some social skills as well.
Taking care of children is not per se a woman’s job, but many men simply are not able to speak and argue with children. Let alone teach them a thing or two. It is therefore quite logical that over the years the vast majority of the teachers are from the female sex. But this poses other challenges for the few remaining men who chose to become teachers. Some of them have to endure the chitchat between women during the breaks and are confronted with important subjects as menopause, monthly period, stockings and dieting.
The trade union CNV Onderwijs (education) published a research last month addressing the problem that male teachers feel left out. More than 2.700 teachers (male and female) answered questions and six out of ten male teachers confirmed that they sometimes feel alone between all their female colleagues. The women as well like to see more male teachers, the research shows. Stephan Kurpershoek is the only male teacher at a small elementary school in Friesland and he tells the Telegraaf: ‘Although I can work very well with my colleagues, I do feel a little like an outcast. I take shorter breaks, because sometimes for weeks in a row the conversations are only about diets and pregnancies.'
Nowadays, only 15% of teachers are from the male sex and that percentage is dwindling. Most elementary schools only have two or three of this extinct breed and it is not a good development for the school children. Children also need male teachers as a role model; somebody they can look up to.
Gert Jan Vermin is teacher at De Noordwijkse School and he followed his passion to start working in the education system. ‘I was sick and tired of the stress in the commercial business world and took the opportunity to work with children. I graduated in 2011 after having followed evening classes from the Pabo for two years.’ He reflects on those years: ‘The everlasting ‘theme colleges’ should be abolished. In those theme colleges the students are divided in groups and the have to endlessly discuss certain subjects and topics.’
Vermin recognizes some of the complaints his male colleagues have. ‘I soon noticed the difference in teaching between male and female teachers. For instance, my instructions to the children are shorter and more powerful. It is scientifically proven that the attention span of boys is shorter. Also, men are more direct and strict and, even more important, can sometimes do crazy things. One time I jumped on a table during a course about walking a tightrope, pretending to do exactly that. The children thought it was hilarious and I don’t see a female colleague do that same thing.’
Vermin does not identify himself with the quotes from Kurpershoek. ‘Of course subjects like diets and pregnancies are discussed. But it is really not true that my female colleagues can’t talk about anything else. And when such a subject is discussed for too long, in my opinion, I make a bold and funny statement. Soon after that, the subject changes. Also, I have the fortunate working circumstance that most of my colleagues are not so-called ‘sissy misses’ (tutjuffen).
Vermin has the opinion that the abundance of female teachers is a threat for boys. Hence, they only get in touch with female role models. ‘This is one of the reasons why I chose to become a teacher. This development is not good for children, and especially for the boys. But for some girls it is also good, when they look up to a male teacher for one or two years. Therefore I want to have safe and comfortable surroundings in my class where children can be themselves. And develop themselves in an authentic and natural way, while exploring all their talents.’
Does Vermin undertake action to let the school children get in touch with so-called ‘typical male stuff’? ‘Once in a while I ask the children (from group 5, JD) whether they have watched football on television. Also I tend to talk longer and go more in depth about subjects such as police, the military or other ‘typical male’ professions.’
 Joany Krijt, vice chairman of CNV Education, is of the opinion that the time has come to attract more men. And this should start with the teacher education, the Pabo. According to Krijt, the Pabo focusses the content of the classes too much on women. All students learn how to do arts and crafts with children, but most men prefer to explore the possibilities on fields such as technique or gym. Krijt says in the Telegraaf: ‘Cancel the obligated toddler internship in the first year of the Pabo. That is one of the reasons why male students leave the Pabo, because men usually have more in common with older children than with toddlers.’
(Published in: The Holland Times, June 2014)