When students return to Lakeroad School for classes this fall they might notice something different.
The public elementary school in Sarnia’s north end will have no male teachers on staff. Zero.
The absence of any men at Lakeroad is the culmination of a trend that began in the 1970s when 45% of all teachers in Ontario were male. Now, according to the Ontario College of Teachers, that number has fallen to 26%, and the gender disparity is especially noticeable in the primary grades.
That’s a problem, some experts say.
The decline of male classroom teachers means fewer opportunities for young people to experience positive role models of both genders, said Ron Rivait, local chapter president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which represents 900 teachers in Lambton-Kent.
“Having male role models within the school can be a very positive experience for many students that might not have that opportunity outside of the school system,” he said.
Mike Parr, a former teacher and professor at Nipissing University, agrees. An absence of male teachers in primary grades gives young boys the impression learning and education is a girl thing, he said.
“They spend five years … with females only. That’s absurd. We would never allow that anywhere else. Can you imagine what society would do if 85% (of teachers) were male? Think of the outcry.”
According to Statistics Canada, 227,810 women worked as kindergarten and elementary teachers in the country in 2011, compared to 43,390 men.
There are a number of reasons for that, said Parr, starting with a stigma that prevents some men from entering a field they perceive as feminine.
That’s a paradox in a province that’s actively encouraging women to enter skilled trades and other traditionally male careers, he said.
“This is not happening for males. There’s no push for males to become nurses, there’s no push for males to consider careers in child care or in primary or junior teaching.”
The Lambton Kent District School Board plans to hire 20 to 30 new elementary school teachers this year. But there are no policies or directives in place meant to address the growing gender divide.
The jobs will go the best candidates, said Phil Warner, the board’s superintendent of Human Resources.
“Our number one priority is putting good quality teachers that care about kids in front of our students,” he said.
“From the population, that’s our number one criteria, a good quality teacher.”
Parr noted that’s the same argument once used for women when seeking leadership positions.
“If males aren’t even applying, of course you’re hiring the best person for the job and it’s predominately going to be female. So number one, we need to encourage males somehow to apply.”
Parents can also hold school boards accountable by demanding greater gender equality, he added.
“If society said, ‘We expect it in schools just like we do in boardrooms and leadership and law schools and with doctors.’ If I go to a clinic I expect half the people there to be women,” he said.
“No one is asking when they pick the school that they’re going to send their kid to, ‘How many male primary teachers do you have?’”