Importance of male teachers as role models for boys is exaggerated, British study finds

Diverse Elementary ClassIs the following statement true or false? Male teachers are important role models for the boys in their classrooms, especially for underachieving and disengaged boys, who may not have role models at home.

If you answered true, your answer is incorrect, say researchers in a recent issue of the British Educational Research Journal.

A gender effect has a compelling appeal to educators, but it has been a largely presumed effect, say these researchers, who failed to find evidence of this effect in a recent study of almost 9,000 11-year-old English students. The researchers did not find any impact on academic performance or attitudes among boys taught by male teachers as opposed to boys in the same cohort taught by female teachers.

“Contrary to the political rhetoric often used to justify measures to bolster male recruitment to the profession, we found no empirical evidence to support the claim that there is a tendency for male teachers to enhance the educational performance of boys and, conversely, for female teachers to enhance the educational performance of girls,” the researchers write.

“If the overriding concern of policy makers is to devise effective measures to reduce the so-called ‘gender gap’ in achievement (and attitude), then it could be argued that current attempts to persuade more men to take up teaching posts may be somewhat misplaced,” the authors write.

The British researchers used multilevel modeling to examine gender effects in a single cohort of 8,978 11-year-old children (50.4% boys and 49.6% girls). The students attended 413 classes, 113 of them taught by men and 300 taught by women. Data on assessments and attitudes for the students were collected as part of the schools’ participation in Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS).

In use in 25 countries, PIPS tracks a number of aspects of schooling as pupils move through the primary grades. Assessments, which are quick to administer, include curriculum-based assessments in math, reading and science (Y6 only) along with an assessment of vocabulary and non-verbal ability, which were used to control for ability in this study. Children also answered questionnaires probing attitudes about core areas of the curriculum and school in general.

Multilevel modeling takes into account the nested nature of data (i.e. different schools, classes, teachers, etc) and lends itself to testing hypotheses about the interaction between the gender of teachers and pupils, the researchers write.

In Year 6, students completed assessments in January after being with their teachers for about 4 months. Researchers looked for gender effects among both high-ability and low-ability students, but found no gender effects with these groups. No analysis was done on the impact of the ethnicity of teachers on students.

In fact, the only gender effect, researchers report, was that both boys and girls had more positive attitudes towards school if they had a female teacher than a male teacher. “As far as attitudes to school are concerned, our study indicates that women teachers seem to bring out the best in both sexes,” the authors write.

The researchers caution that their study looked at gender effect on 11-year-olds in Year 6 and that does not mean the teacher’s gender would be inconsequential with younger children. Future research should examine whether there are different effects for students of different ages and also whether a teacher’s ethnicity has an impact on students.

“Conceivably, male teachers could have greater salience as role models for boys in the lower primary school, where men are generally conspicuous by their absence,” the researchers write. Previous research has found that teachers account for about 30% of the variance in student achievement, the authors write. A major implication of this study is that in their recruiting efforts for new teachers, administrators should focus on finding effective, high-caliber teachers, whatever their gender.

“Having said this, we nevertheless recognize the importance of contemporary measures to make teaching a more inclusive profession and accept that attempts to bolster male (or ethnic minority) recruitment can be justified on other (arguably less pragmatic) grounds,” the authors write. “For example, increasing the availability of male role models to children (in all age groups) across the primary sector may help to break down enduring gender stereotypes, by conveying an unequivocal message–to children and parents alike–that learning is an ‘acceptable masculine activity’.”

“Role models, school improvement and the ‘gender gap’–do men bring out the best in boys and women the best in girls?” by Bruce Carrington, Peter Tymms and Christine Merrell, British Educational Research Journal, June 2008, Volume 34, Number 3, pp. 315-327.

One Response to “Importance of male teachers as role models for boys is exaggerated, British study finds”

  1. ben

    This study and article are completely flawed because they are looking at the results of only 1 year of schooling. If you have half a brain you know that role models are moral inspirations for life, not a brief moment during a 1 year semester. Now if these “researchers” had tracked these boys throughout their education careers and seen how they did 4-8 years later when they later applied the morals/work ethics learned from their early male academic role models, you might get a very different story vs a boy who hasn’t had a male teacher until he was 13 or 14 years old, well into his academic career.

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