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Researching the halted paths of male primary school teacher candidates.

A common goal in teacher education, as with education in general, is that we aim to give voice to all of our students and to help them to succeed in life through education, often in a discourse of holism that encompasses spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual elements. As seasoned educators in the public school system and new academics, we are frequently perplexed by discord in public discourse and actual practice within educational settings. Since the 1970s, there has been much research on the plight of females in school and beyond, personified in the celebrated Reviving Ophelia, Saving the selves of adolescent girls (Pipher, 1995). Only recently have popular, widely-read, accessible books been produced with a focus on males, among the most famous, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myth of Boyhood (Pollack, 1998), followed by Real Boys' Voices (Pollack, 2000). Although these researchers are located in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, where quantitative methods tend to dominate, their books have a distinctive qualitative, narrative flair that promotes accessibility, and which we hope to build upon in this paper.

Boys, some would argue (Brown, 2003; Honey, 2001), struggle more in school than girls and are fast becoming a minority in many disciplines and with lowering enrollments in trade school, community colleges, and universities (Wente, 2003). In particular, it has long been public knowledge that there are male minorities in what have historically been, and continue to be, female dominated fields, such as nursing, flight attendants, and primary school education. While there has been little, if any, public outcry for more male nurses or flight attendants, demand for more male teachers, including at the primary levels, has been on the rise.

Indeed, research in gender and education is reputed to have taken a 'boy turn' (Weaver-Hightower, 2003) over recent years, which itself connotes suspicion and unease. Perhaps this is ill part due to the competitive nature of academe, and the increasingly small morsels of the pie which are devoted to social justice research, and the long battles feminists have waged to have their research recognized. As social justice investigators, we find it alarming to examine power dynamics around teacher education germane to the experiences of males, and to discover inequities that are serendipitously swept under the carpet. This arts-informed narrative inquiry will delve into the experiences of male B.Ed. teacher candidates in Northern Ontario who did not complete their education degree. We will explore factors leading to their withdrawal. Their voices will, hopefully, fuel dialogue around issues of power dynamics and intersectional identity (race, class, gender, sexual orientation, geographical location, and language and culture) applicable to education, men's studies, social justice, arts-informed and arts-based educational research, and affiliated disciplines. This paper begins with a brief review of the literature on male primary teachers, then research methodology, next a look at theory, followed by a composite, narrative monologue representing common experiences of former teacher candidates, and culminates in the researcher's impressions and questions.

Male Primary School Teachers

There is a perceived shortage of male teachers in North America, Australia and the United Kingdom. Perceived barriers to males becoming teachers include the impression that teachers are overworked and underpaid (Bittner & Cooney, 2003), and in a profession of lower status than higher paying jobs such as lawyer, pilot, engineer, entrepreneur, or doctor. There is also the perception that men are less nurturing than women and that it is inappropriate for men to be working with young children; male primary teachers are often characterized as "feminine," "homosexual," and "pedophile" (Oyler, Jennings, & Lozada, 2001), both from within the profession and in the public eye. One argument in favor of increasing the number of male teachers in primary school education is to allow men to take more responsibility for children's care (Farquhar, 1997), suggesting a move towards challenging the historical and persistent take on women as principal child caregivers. Some cite the importance for pupils to have male role models, particularly in this age of many single-parent mothered homes, and to illustrate to pupils that it is appropriate for males to choose to enter a caring profession (DeCorse & Vogtle, 1997). Public opinion often suggests that more men should be teachers to serve as role models (Sargent, 2001), and to enhance the learning of boys who progressively score less well than girls on provincial, national and international achievement tests (Becker, 1998; Bouchard, St-Amant, & Gagnon, 2000; Brown, 2003). However, one study in England, using 1997/98 performance indicators and questionnaires in primary schools of 9000 students, found that boys do not do better by having male teachers (Johnston, 2005). These perceptions and contradictions have led various teachers' organizations to enter the debate.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (2006) launched a symposium, "Is the male teacher becoming extinct?" that included several university researchers and teacher focus groups. The Ontario College of Teachers (Bernard, Hill, Falter, & Wilson, 2004), which certifies teachers in the province, published a recent report entitled, Narrowing the Gender Gap: Attracting Men to Teaching, which examines and analyzes the shortage of men in Ontario's teaching profession. They found that men represent only one in ten primary/junior teachers now and fewer than one in three secondary teachers. Some research on the experiences of male teachers as primary teachers has, ironically or ingenuously, been conducted with all female teachers who agreed that men might be discouraged by low numbers of male colleagues, but in their view, male teachers feel accepted by parents and the educational community (Barnard et al., 2000); these respondents further indicated that males must act differently in their interactions with young children and that males may not enter early childhood education because of the risk of sexual abuse allegations. Moreover, little is actually known about male teacher candidates in a primary/junior B.Ed. program who do not complete the program, although anecdotal evidence suggest that attrition rates are high.


Our qualitative pilot study, "The Professional Journey of Male Primary Teacher Candidates in Northern Ontario," has six participants who are currently enrolled in a B.Ed. program, and five who have withdrawn since 2000. All attended B.Ed. programs in universities in Northern Ontario. We conducted a series of three interviews with each of the currently enrolled candidates as well as a focus group, and interviewed the withdrawn candidates for approximately ninety minutes each. Only data from the withdrawn teacher candidates are used in this paper.

Arts-informed research (sometimes called arts-based or arts-inspired research) has some key tenets that are important to consider for those unfamiliar with this approach. (1) While many positivists work towards uncertainty reduction, arts-informed research embraces subjectivity and ambiguity. Unlike more traditional quantitative and qualitative research, generally, we attempt to ask more questions rather than to arrive at conclusions or answers. Next, a key component of most arts-informed research is to provoke questioning on behalf of interlocutors. We want interlocutors to actively create their own critical interpretations, effectively, to "long for more" so that dialogue may continue. Frequently, as with much art, we hope that interlocutors may have visceral, emotive responses upon reading our work. Furthermore, the integration of the arts, or artistic processes, is involved in arts-informed research. This may range from arts-informed researchers adopting elements of collage, dance, painting, poetry, or creative writing techniques in our research methods to integrating them in our interpretation or representation of data. While arts-informed qualitative researchers may engage in conventional qualitative data gathering techniques such as interviewing, document analysis, and observations, others do not, and prefer to use their own tacit and intuitive knowledge as the 'data' for their research. Finally, no research is a panacea for all research questions. Many arts-informed researchers engage in arts-informed research but also more conventional qualitative and quantitative research, as we also do, so that multiple audiences and perspectives may be acknowledged, validated, and explored.

In this paper, we have elected to employ an arts-informed, narrative inquiry that employs creative writing techniques for two major reasons. Firstly, we hope to reach multiple audiences such as teachers, teacher candidates, students in other disciplines, and scholars from various fields; our arts-informed research is more accessible to a broader audience since the resulting narrative is understandable by most, whereas much academic research may be only accessible to an academic elite. Therefore, we are making bridges to broader communities. Secondly, we do hope to make our scholarship more visceral or heartfelt (Gosse, 2005), and to provoke emotive reactions on behalf of interlocutors. Emotional reactions are a valid way of knowing and experiencing and we hope that by provoking these, our narrative will lead to critical inquiry on behalf of interlocutors to this "new world" we have opened for them--that of minority male teacher candidates. Ultimately, we envision audiences reacting to nuances with feeling (Eisner, 2004), and liberating their own tacit knowledge and understanding.

In particular, we employ narrative inquiry with creative writing techniques to recreate our withdrawn teacher candidates' voices in plausible ways and raise questions about males' experiences in teacher education programs. In more standard qualitative research, researchers often analyze patterns and select excerpts from participants' discourse which they then interpret. Our approach is not so different. Using interviews with these five withdrawn teacher candidates and arts-informed inquiry, we have created a composite character that embodies overall impressions and dominant themes related to their experiences. This requires integration of tacit knowledge in our creative writing and an overt embracing of subjectivity (Higgs, 1996). In melding our withdrawn participants' experiences with our tacit knowledge and creativity, the subjectivity of research is not only embraced but viewed as an ethically sound, particularly embodied form of inquiry (de Freitas, 2003), for creative writing is a relentlessly reflective process.

We are inspired by the testimonio of Latin America (Beverley, 2000), a novel or novella produced in written text, told in the first person by a narrator who is the protagonist of the events s/he encountered. It is the narration of a significant life experience. Generally, the production involves the transcription and editing by an interlocutor who is a journalist, ethnographer, or literary author. We affirm that our individual participants' voices are no more lost than in most qualitative research. Indeed, we attempt to capture the 'soul' of their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a respectful, genuine and holistic rendering.

Our composite character, Rod, is thirty, white, and working-class. He was raised in a mid-sized city and has battled with emotional problems throughout much of his life. He withdrew from a primary-junior B.Ed. program in a Northern Ontario university since 2000. He was the first generation in his family to successfully gain a university education, as the B.Ed. programs all require a pre-requisite undergraduate degree. Rod is Anglophone and protestant and attended the public school system as a child and teenager. He held a series of blue collar jobs until returning to university as a mature student. Through venturing into his background, entry into, and subsequent exodus from the female-dominated career path of primary school teacher education, we gain narrative insights into our participants' lived experiences, important to Faculties of Education, policy makers, education students, and the broader field of men's studies.


Since Rosenthal and Jacobsen's (1968) groundbreaking research on teachers' expectations and student performance outcomes, teacher expectations have been implicated in hundreds of studies and linked to students' self-esteem and school success. Teacher expectations, like those from broader family, friends, community, and popular culture, can result in self-fulfilling prophesies for what are problematically viewed as acceptable, endorsed, and 'normal' male behaviors (Gosse, 2006). This narrative inquiry will inquire into the roles of expectations in participants' lives. Furthermore, within the growing field of men's studies, as with studies of multiculturalism (Parsons & Brown, 2001), intersectional identity analysis may prove useful. Gender alone, like race, class, sexual orientation, disability, geographical location, and language and culture, is an insufficient lens to more fully understand the experiences of our male research participants. While analyzing the discursive narratives of participants can result in poignant stories and vivid descriptions (Eisner, 1998), we seek to go beyond this to revisionist readings of texts, to inquire into who and what is excluded or silenced, and to explore potential reasons why.

In addition, we strive to challenge common, persistent, and historical representations and beliefs about males. While males may tend to be socialized to be autonomous and self-reliant (Faludi, 1999), we will see whether this is the case with our participants. While emotions are indeed strictly regulated in certain circumstances for certain males, and assertiveness and aggression encouraged (Tiger, 1999), we will investigate the roles and presence of sensitivity and compassion in our participants with open minds. Indeed. in this arts-informed narrative inquiry, we reject any notions of absolute and objective Truth, so that no claims will be made that are universal, finite, or conclusive (Cole & Knowles, 2001). Ultimately, it is our humble hope that while we may confirm some popular beliefs regarding males, in other ways we may create new knowledge, ways of representing, and questioning.

Rod's Voice

My mother worked at home most of the time. I have one sister and a brother. Mom took in sewing sometimes. My father was a manual laborer. I lived all my life in the North. I went to primary and elementary school in Manitoulin Bay. Then high school. I didn't like school. There was always a lot going on. Fights on the playground. Lots of roughhousing. Bullying. 1 remember in grade three, I was hit in the head with a rock and father told me to toughen up or they'd never leave me alone. It wasn't just the boys either. Some of the girls were just as bad. Tough as nails. It was important to have a reputation, to let others know you couldn't be missed with.

High school just got worse, well, junior high really. I played hockey. Father used to be All Star, a big name in his time in the league. Hockey was more important than school in Manitoulin Bay. We had practices several times a week. After each game, on the ride home in the car, my parents would go over every play on the ice with me. Funny thing ... I remember once in grade eight, I didn't score any goals or assists that game. My parents didn't speak to me for days. The silent treatment. It used to really piss me off, too. I rose up to the AAA division. I guess I was pretty good, but I had to quit. The politics of hockey were awful. The coaches would get players to pretend they were more injured than they were on the ice to get bigger penalties for the other team. Some of the players weren't that good but they got to play because their parents were rich. l finally gave it up. We also didn't have the money for the restaurant meals after the games, and all the travel.

I guess it was around that time I started hanging with the wrong crowd. It was sex, drugs and rock 'n roll! I wasn't going to school as often as I should. There wasn't anything to interest me. Some of the teachers got on my case, ya know? It was like I was singled out. For example, one day in about grade 11, I just came into the cafeteria to pick up a friend. I was wearing my baseball hat. A teacher just grabbed my arm for no reason and basically accosted me. Then he started in on me, saying I hadn't put my tray away, and I hadn't even eaten there. He said we weren't allowed to wear hats and sent me to the office. I didn't see high school as a friendly environment. I was suspended a few times.

I guess I also wasn't very intrinsically motivated about school ... I was into, well, applied knowledge, and there was really only one course in forestry that appealed to me. Don't get me wrong. There were some supportive people, too. They didn't all see me as a pain. There was this one teacher. Ms. Amado, an English teacher. She also taught us practical stuff, like how to make resumes and a lot of practical skills you can use in the real world. She tried to get through to me. She wouldn't hesitate to kick me out of class when I was being a pain but she never gave up on me. She was very patient and I remember her telling me that I was capable of much more. She saw the potential in everyone, even me!

I actually left school and went to work for a while. I worked in the mill, same as father. Then I got fed up with that and worked as a barman and as a tree planter. I went back to school part-time and eventually got my high school diploma. After that, Dad passed away. I got a job with a local constructor, digging ditches, painting, and carpentry work. I wanted to get a better job but you need a university degree for that, so eventually I went back to university and studied sociology. University was a whole different ball game from high school. I worked harder. I was twenty-six at the time and had set a goal for myself. It was tough, though. I had some student loans but mostly I had to pay my own way through working part-time in the construction business.

I read in the papers about the divorce rates and shortage of male role models, so I thought this might be a good place for me. I knew a few people that were teachers and I thought back to Ms. Amado and some of the other teachers that inspired me. I thought maybe I could become one of them. I always got along well with kids. They gravitate towards me, I don't know why. I volunteered in a school periodically for a year. Really liked it. So I decided to enroll in the faculty. Funny thing, when I mentioned to some friends about going to Teacher's College, they asked me why I wasn't going to be teaching high school. I got a few strange looks.

It was a bit of a shock the first few days. There were only three men in a group of about thirty-eight! I hadn't been in the classroom for a couple of years, and I remember receiving all of these course materials and feeling pretty overwhelmed. But I liked the courses for the most part. It had its challenges though. I still had to pay the bills so I had to work weekend and sometimes weeknights at a gas station. I had all this homework to do. Things started to just fall apart and worsened when I went on my first real practicum. That was in October, I guess.

The children in school were good overall and some of the teachers, too. My associate teacher seemed alright but I didn't always get the help I needed. I guess they just expect you to know what you're doing and to run with it. Several of the other teachers didn't pay me much heed. They just went about their business, which puzzled me. I thought they'd be friendlier. Oh, funny thing. It was expected that I help out with sports. So I did and that was a neat way to meet the kids and build rapport, but there were awkward times.

I mean, children react to men and women differently. I think that men can sometimes get away with more than women can. I don't mean to stereotype. Whether it was playing sports or in the classroom, I had all of these kids who wanted to sit in my lap or hold hands, and you ,just can't do that. I mean, women can get away with it, but not a man. I remember one time we were seated on the floor in the gym and the kids got too close. I mean, kids are very touchy-feely at that age. The teacher took me aside and warned me that was never to happen again. "You can't do that," she said.

It's a double standard, but there you are. Same with the hugging. Kids that age want to hug you all the time, hold hands, and latch onto your legs and stuff. It made me very uneasy. I brought it up with my associate teacher and the vice-principal and we decided I could high five them. I remember this one little boy. He was poor, I mean, I don't think he changed his clothes the entire week I was there. For some reason, he really took to me. Maybe he had no dad at home, you know? One day he came up to me and tried to hold my hand. I explained to him that Mr. Rod can't hold hands or hug, but that I could give a high five. He sort of wandered off with tears in his eyes. It shouldn't be like that. I mean, if a man has a natural bond with children, at some point in his career it can be an issue! In the meantime, I saw women crouching down and hugging little kids all the time.

I guess I started to feel intimidated. There were some classroom management problems with the grade three class. Several of the students had behavioral problems and I wasn't quite sure what to do. My associate teacher had a gruffer attitude than me and looked at me funny when I took a gentler approach. Also, I was trying to work weekends and do all this lesson planning late at night. I had to teach all of these subjects in two different grade levels and it just started to become physically and mentally draining. I'd be up all hours of the nights doing preparation. When bad things happen to me, they seem to be catastrophic! It reminded me of high school all over again. I had no one to talk to. I was juggling all of this and just starting feeling like a wreck. So I withdrew from the program.

I had a hard time afterwards. I didn't want to see anyone. I had to bite the bullet and keep working, somehow. I had rung up more debts when I was in school. Now I'm working for the city in a maintenance position but I want a better job. Something with better pay and security. I'd like to work in an office where I can interact with people more. Who knows what the future will bring?

Researchers' Impressions--Not Conclusions

We are struck by the multiplicities of meaning making as we negotiate this arts-informed narrative analysis. We are conscious of the qualitative researcher's eternal struggle: what do we do with the bits of data that end up on the cutting room floor? Our postmodern and poststructuralist sensibilities are no comfort. We want to know more about our participants and consider an in-depth life story approach as a complement to our arts-informed research. We do indeed suspect that our participants experienced a stifling of the more sensitive, caring emotions as youths, and responded with aggressive and self-destructive behaviors, such as drinking, drugs, fighting, truancy and disengagement from school. This phenomenon is well-documented in research, as boys are frequently expected to repress emotions and behaviors problematically seen as 'girlish,' such as being studious or sensitive, and to instead present bravado and a 'bad boy' persona (Faludi, 1999; Lingard & Douglas, 1999; Mac an Ghaill. 2000). We suspect that this phenomenon may be particularly pronounced for some working class boys, like all of our participants.

That all participants were working class brought up a myriad of questions regarding linguistic and cultural capital (Harker, Mahar, & Wilkes. 1990). In other words, we ponder the ways the participants' talk (discourse), engage in social interactions, and display tastes in dress, eating habits, travel, and their engagements with 'low' and 'high' culture. How might these have influenced their integration into a largely middle-class profession? Since teachers' professional identities are largely founded on the notion of shared beliefs and expectations (Mitchell, 1997), had these working class men missed subtle and not so-subtle cues that make one "part of the [middle-class teacher] crowd"?

Had a similar phenomenon occurred in their teenage years when drug use, rebellion, and alienation disenfranchised them from school, also often seen as having a middle class curriculum? Since they appear to long for middle class lives and security but hold blue collar jobs, what are the costs of their disillusionment and discontent? Beyond the burdens of finances, had the expectations of their youth and adulthood as males, generated from self, family, teachers, friends, community and pop culture, whether explicitly spoken, or implicitly unspoken but insinuated, inhibited the nurturing of 'the right stuff' to navigate though teacher education? After all, despite adversity, all had eventually been able to successfully obtain a high school diploma and at least one university degree prior to enrolment in a faculty of education. Furthermore, there are working class men who successfully graduate from teacher education program, enter the teaching profession, and even proceed to advancements. How might their stories differ from that of their peers who withdrew from the program?

Our participants attempted to enter the teaching profession where caring and compassion are expected and commonly viewed as normal, commonplace teacher attributes. However, we must question even this supposition. Our own experiences as teachers, and we have over forty years between us in the K-12 system, as well as our research, leads us to postulate that there is a hidden and sometimes overt atmosphere of violence in schools. In fact, many of our pupils are made to feel that they do not belong in K-12 (Botstein, 1997), and we extend this to teacher candidates, teachers, parents-guardians, and other adults affiliated with schools. We propose the notion of symbolic violence to better understand this discord. Symbolic violence, as opposed to physical violence, may be seen as acts that dehumanize, alienate, demoralize and threaten (Gosse, Labrie, Grimard, & Roberge, 2000); these acts may even be inactions, subconscious, and implicit. For instance, there was repeated policing of the male teacher candidates hugging children, or holding hands, that seemed a virtual non-issues for their female colleagues. This policing of male affection, compassion, and sensitivity toward children at various times in our research took the guise of: (a) common, accepted, public knowledge viewed as normal and articulated by peers, administrators, parents, and media, (b) the male teacher candidates' vague self-sense of unease around children when such circumstances arose where they might have to comfort or console children in a sensitive manner and (c) verbal warnings by associate teachers, faculty advisors, tenured teachers, administrators, and faculty of education professors about the potential of being perceived as a sexual aggressor or pedophile.

We propose that symbolic violence may result from transgressions of unwritten codes, and these codes may be socially endorsed. For example, we must deconstruct the persistent belief that females are better suited to child caretaking, or that males who care for children are potential sexual aggressors, so that entry into this historically women's space may no longer be viewed by so many as a trespass, and thus treated with distrust and even hostility. When viewed as a transgression of an unwritten code and a trespass into women' space, this kind of symbolic violence may take the forms of being ignored, inadequately mentored, or deprived of knowledge one needs to succeed, such as essential lesson planning strategies/support, or sharing of classroom management techniques. Thus, as sufferers of symbolic violence, our male teacher candidates' relative reported helplessness is not surprising.

Since writing this paper, we have successfully gained a grant from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) to conduct a province-wide study from 2007-2009 of male primary school teachers. We have received 223 responses from an online survey and have begun conducting in-class observations and semi-structured interviews in several schools. We are encouraged by the professional, public and media interest in our study. However, symbolic violence is also extended to budding researchers in men's studies when research initiatives are not validated by internal and external funding agencies for whom men's studies is either misunderstood or discarded. Similarly, our articles and conference presentations are sometimes rejected by academic, peer-reviewed journals and conferences that do carry similar research on and by women. Some Feminists question whether researcher on men in female-dominated careers is appropriate since they claim that men already dominate the most lucrative careers, and generally have more power in the workplace (Farrell, 1993, 2005). We hope that there will be increased dialogue ensuing from our research, so that such popular and harmful beliefs may be stringently problematized. When people experience lack of power and agency, their voices deserve to be researched and heard.

In this paper, we have generated an arts-informed narrative inquiry around the halted paths of male primary school teacher candidates. We have explored issues of power around social expectations and symbolic violence. Although we have presented a short storied glimpse into what is happening in the lives of teacher candidates, we hope to engage in further debate around issues of who benefits from the exclusion or inclusion of males in early childhood education, and possible consequences. Ultimately, we hope that examination of the struggles of male primary school teacher candidates may lead to greater awareness of the complexities of identity, symbolic violence, and expectations in order to generate new questionings.


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Nipissing University

Douglas Gosse, Mike Parr, and John Allison, Faculty of Education, Nipissing University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Douglas Gosse, Faculty of Education. Nipissing University, 100 College Drive, Box 5002, North Bay, Ontario, Canada P1B 8L7. Electronic mail:
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Author:Gosse, Douglas; Parr, Michael; Allison, John
Publication:The Journal of Men's Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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