Study questions whether boys see male teachers as role models

Diverse Elementary ClassA new English study questions the notion that male teachers are important role models for boys. When 400 boys and girls in the country-region, ages 10, 11, 14 and 16, were asked to identify their role models, only 2.4% named a teacher; most children identified relatives and friends from their own social environments.

“Despite assertions to the contrary, by government and the mass media, male teachers are not seen as role models by boys in this sample,” write the researchers in a study published in Educational Research. “As a policy prescription to remedy boys’ so-called under-achievement and laddish behaviour, the promotion of male teachers as role models is, at present not viable.”

Students who responded to the questionnaire attended one of four schools: two primary schools and two secondary schools. Two of the schools were from socially advantaged areas and two were from socially disadvantaged areas. No statistically significant differences were found among students from schools in socially advantaged and disadvantaged areas. However, fewer boys from the primary school in the socially disadvantaged area mentioned male relatives as role models.

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Overall, 31.7% of pupils chose one or both parents as their most important role model. When asked to name any of their role models, 52.2% of girls and 28.5% of boys named relatives (parents and all other relatives). Girls tended to choose female relatives and boys male relatives. More girls than boys said they had a role model (76% and 64%, respectively), indicating that boys were less likely than girls to have any role models.

In the study, 30% of boys named soccer players and other sports figures as role models. Soccer players were second to fathers as the most important role model for boys, the authors write.The prominence of soccer players as role models for boys may be the result of media coverage but also could be due to a “Player for Success” campaign in the UK that links soccer with literacy in the schools, the authors note.

According to previous research, the authors write, people are more likely to emulate a model if there are shared characteristics such as gender, age, race and/or social location. Recent UK studies have indicated that peers and relatives may be far more important to boys as role models than their teachers, the authors say.

The study attempted to clarify students’ concept of “role model.” The questionnaire gave the dictionary definition of role model “as a person you respect, follow, look up to or want to be like.” Students chose role model attributes from a provided list and then freely listed the attributes they admired in their role models.Students most frequently mentioned that their role models were honest, helpful and hard-working.

Characteristics related to celebrity and fame were less frequently cited, the authors write. More boys mentioned “physical prowess” attributes such as athleticism and bravery and more girls cited “worker/helper” attributes such as honesty and hard working. While there were large differences between boys and girls in citing caring and kindness as attributes, both boys and girls named this attribute as the most important one for a role model (39.6% of girls and 29.3% of boys).

In this study, boys and girls mentioned friends more often than teachers as role models. Lest educators take offense, the authors point out that the findings do not mean that students do not have respect for their teachers.

“That only 2.4% of all pupils referred to a teacher as a role model strongly suggests that children do not see their teachers as role models,” the authors write. “It may be that these pupils did ‘respect’ or ‘look up to’ their teachers but, when thinking about role models, also focused on things such as ‘want to be like’ and ‘follow’. If so, this might indicate a lack of desire to become like their teachers.”

“Role model, hero or champion? Children’s views concerning role models,” by Patricia Bricheno and Mary Thornton, Educational Research, December 2007, Volume 49, Number 4, pp. 383-396.

Published in ERN December 2007 Volume 20 Number 9

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