In 2000, we (teacher educators at an Australian university) began a study of a group of final year male elementary school teacher education students. We were interested in better understanding the lived experiences of male teachers as they pursued their careers. We have previously written about some aspects of the participants' early careers, including the reasons for their choice of elementary education, the influences of family or other factors on that decision, and their participation in the teacher education program (Mulholland & Hansen, 2003). This article focuses specifically on the participants' perceptions of male teachers as caters in a predominantly feminized profession (Brookhart & Loadman, 1996; Siefert, 1988). Our interest in this area was generated first by our reading of research literature that made problematic the link between caring and masculinity and then by our hope that an understanding of lived experience might assist us in providing support and training for other male elementary teachers in the future, so that they might anticipate and thus better cope with the issues of caring, such an essential part of elementary teaching.
Our work was conducted against a background of public debate and academic discussion about the deficit of male teachers in elementary schools (Acker, 1995; Gamble & Wilkins, 1997; Klecker & Loadman, 1999; Wood & Hoag, 1993). Many authors, both populist and academic, have advocated encouraging more men to become teachers. An examination of the research literature shows that male teachers are called on to fill a number of demanding and sometimes contradictory roles. However, men as carers emerges as both a major theme and a subtler underpinning of the rationales provided for encouraging men to teach younger children.
The public debate has been led by such authors as Biddulph (2002) who, in his publication Manhood, devoted an entire chapter, entitled "Making School Good for Boys," to the issue of boys' academic underperformance, bullying, and poor communication and conflict-resolution skills in school contexts. At the conclusion to the chapter, Biddulph emphasized the importance of "recruiting more of the right kind of men, especially into primary education" (p. 133). The right kind of man, as described by Biddulph, has a deep inner manhood learned from his father and is strong, brave, and protective; he will be able to counter the alienation experienced by boys as a result of the "inadvertent femininity of schools" (p. 129). Biddulph said that learning in schools emphasizes and rewards "quiet, co-operative, verbal, fine-motor, indoor, artistic and passive kinds of activity" (p. 129) and needs to be complemented with learning styles that incorporate movement, vigor, "hands-on," and natural activity that goes beyond four wails for both girls and boys alike. However, he warned that male teachers might not be adequate role models for boys if they themselves have never been mentored appropriately by older men. Biddulph described the relationship that currently exists between boys and some male teachers who lack "fatherly or nurturing qualities" as "the damaged leading the damaged" (p. 128) and advocated special training for male teachers.
In academic literature, reasons advanced for there being urgency in recruiting more men into elementary teaching are varied: to restore to elementary teaching the gender balance and diversity reflected in the wider society (Brookhart & Loadman, 1996; Montecinos & Nielsen, 1997); to offer children a more balanced education through a recognition that women and men operate differently as classroom teachers (DeCorse & Vogtle, 1997; Gerson, 1993); to provide elementary school children with male teachers who model learning as acceptable masculine activity and who work cooperatively and respectfully with women as equals (DeCorse & Vogtle, 1997; Montecinos & Nielsen, 1997); to have male teachers as substitute or surrogate fathers to increasing numbers of children from homes where the father is absent (Coulter & McNay, 1993; Gamble & Wilkins, 1997); and to help to break down traditional gender stereotyping, particularly as expressed by boys (Mancus, 1992). …