Three men teachers, three countries and three responses to the physical contact dilemma

Penni Jane Cushman


The shortage of men teachers in primary schools is a global concern. As the demand for men teachers expands, the reasons why men choose not to teach, also grows. In some countries a media-fuelled fear of being accused of sexual abuse, and resultant policies designed to protect students and teachers, has deterred potential applicants and impacted on the freedom of men teachers to engage with students in gender-neutral, nurturing ways. At the same time as men are feeling compelled to act in keeping with traditional masculinities, gender equity policies are directing schools to challenge damaging stereotypes and encourage diversity in life choices. This paper investigates how three men in three countries – England, Sweden and New Zealand – have responded to these conflicting messages and how they have modified their physical contact in light of perceived risks. Although the size of the study restricts the validity of the findings, the paper highlights the complexity of factors that influence men teachers, including cultural mores, and adds to the call for more intensive teacher education around gender.


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