Do schools really need more male teachers?

Are boys worse at school because there are too few male teachers?

Almost only women teach in primary schools. Parents and experts are calling for more men in the classrooms. But does that bring anything? And why do so few men want to be teachers? The answers to this say a lot about prevailing gender images. The fourth article in our series “This is how upbringing works”.

The two primary school students wrote the internship teacher a farewell letter: "Dear Mr. Strickler, you are a great teacher because you are a man." Stephan Strickler kept the paper. Nevertheless, he, 26 years old, dark beard and baseball cap, is a little embarrassed by this story. He started training to be a primary school teacher because he likes working with children. «You get a lot in return. It is never a work-off like I experienced in the office as a commercial clerk. " He didn't think about gender roles and politics.

In his practical assignments, the student at the University of Education Zurich is now repeatedly confronted with the fact that men are exotic in the world of upbringing and education: When the boys in kindergarten are hanging by his legs because they have such a strong need for physical contact and he has to pull himself loose. When he's the only man in the staff room during an internship in a school building. Or when he overhears parents calling for their son to finally be taught by a man.

In Switzerland, 84 percent of the teaching staff in the 1st to 6th primary classes are women. Since the mid-1960s, women have been in the majority in public primary schools. But it was only since girls overtook boys in grades at the end of the nineties that female dominance in the classrooms has been viewed as a problem by many parents and also in certain circles of education experts: the feminization of the school is to blame for the «boys crisis», they say, and curricula and didactics are also geared towards the often harder-working girls. More men are finally needed in schools again.

Recognition increases

It is possible that this requirement will soon be fulfilled: the interest of men in the primary school teaching profession is increasing. Between 2011 and 2017, the proportion of male students for this level at the universities of teacher education (PH) in Switzerland rose from 13 to 18 percent. At the PH Nordwestschweiz, next to Zurich the largest teacher training center in this country, the proportion of men even rose from around 16 to more than 27 percent.

Heinz Rhyn, Rector of the PH Zurich, expects a further increase in the male quota. He believes he can see a change in values ​​in this development: "Social recognition for the teaching profession is increasing again." Today we know that it is a demanding and important job. Instead of money and a career, the meaningfulness of the job and the compatibility with the family are becoming increasingly important for men.

What does this development mean for the children? Will the “new” teachers change the school significantly? What effects - for example on the later professional life or in the social interaction of the children - are you hoping for?

The teacher was assessed by his students. The verdict: "medium strict". Both the boys and the girls thought so.

Beat Ramseier has made promoting men his mission. The head of the coordination office of the association “Men at the Primary School” (MaP) and manager of the department for boys and girls education (Jumpps) argues from a developmental point of view: men in the classroom are necessary to counteract traditional gender stereotypes. "Boys need male teachers as well as women in order to develop realistic images of men." What does “realistic” mean in this context?

"The children should experience that men too are empathetic and can deal well with children." If boys lack characters in the form of teachers, they often choose virtual heroes as models: superheroes from video games, for example, who primarily convey a violent, tough image of men. The projects of the MaP association are intended to counteract prevailing stereotypes. "We want to promote diversity for everyone involved," says Ramseier, "for children, parents and teachers."

“Men at the primary school” is a gender equality project that aims to encourage more men to take up teaching at primary level. It's also about equal opportunities: Young men with an educational flair would stumble upon “prejudices or other invisible obstacles” when choosing a career, says Ramseier.

What parents want

Studies show that young people decide very early on against jobs that they consider to be atypical for their gender. The more feminine a job is perceived, the less interested boys and men are in it. The project was therefore largely financed by the Federal Equal Opportunities Office. Between 2016 and autumn 2018, half a million Swiss francs were spent on various projects, and the initiators have already submitted a request for a further development to extend to French-speaking Switzerland until 2022.

More men in primary schools is a wish that can often be heard at parents' evenings. Usually it comes from mothers and fathers who raise boys at home. One of them is Anna Schindler. Her sons are now 18, 14 and 12 years old. “Boys need a male counterpart,” the Zurich native is convinced. "Men are often more pragmatic about boys when they make noise and make nonsense."

As a rule, they are less annoyed about boys, Schindler observes time and again. "And I know very well what can be annoying about men, after all, I have four of them at home." What is meant are the rooster fights and the loud appearance when someone wants to assert himself. "It's still possible at the lower level, but boys between the ages of 10 and 12 cannot possibly behave, so you have to show your limits in a good way."

Male teachers have a gender-related advantage: They score points with their football skills and knowledge, and with more physical strength in general. “That impresses a lot of boys immensely,” says Schindler. Teachers have a harder position with boys: “I notice that they want to discuss something with the teachers first, before they accept something. With teachers, one sentence is often enough, and then there is peace. "

However, some teachers notice such behavior not only in students, but also in parents, for example when the design of the lessons is questioned less often by their male colleagues. This shows that the school is a place where existing gender stereotypes are lived. But what do the men in the classroom actually do so differently?

Often it is about the atmospheric that cannot be attached to facts. The characteristics that are ascribed to women and men always have a lot to do with the prevailing zeitgeist. A look into the past makes this clear. «The teachers are easily irritable and moody», wrote an expert in 1866 for the attention of the school synod of the canton of Bern, «in difficult cases they know nothing better than to cry and bring complaints to the authorities. Even in the elementary classes, the firm, consistent nature of the man is preferable to the weak feminine emotional being ”, it was said at the time.

The research relativizes

So it's not that easy to clearly identify the advantages or disadvantages of men in the classroom. What does science say Numerous studies on the feminization of the teaching profession have been published over the past decade. The cliché that the teachers turned boys into educational losers has never been confirmed. The researchers always came to the same conclusion: the gender of the teacher has no influence on the school performance of boys. If children are asked in the context of studies what a good teacher should be like, then they answer with adjectives like “strict” (“but not too much”) or “fair”, and hardly ever with “male” or “female”.

The German educational researcher Marcel Helbig has carried out several studies on the effects of female-dominated classrooms. “The only thing that could be proven with same-sex role models concerns the girls: If they have a math, physics or chemistry teacher, it favors their aspiration in science subjects in some cases. However, we did not find any such effect in boys. "

He also found no scientific evidence to support the assumption that more male teachers would change the gender images that are shaped by society as a whole. Basically, Helbig doubts that teachers have a lot of influence. «Teachers are rarely mentioned in surveys. The role of the school is massively overestimated, ”he says.

The media breadth of masculinity, which is still completely different, has a much stronger effect: “Finance managers, engineers and executives are men. Stereotypes are continued, but a few men in the elementary school can't do anything about it. " Even if it were the case that boys at school were somehow disadvantaged by the so-called feminization, this would obviously be balanced out in the world of work at the latest.


That is the proportion of female teachers in the 1st to 6th primary classes in Switzerland in the 2016/17 school year. If you count all eight primary and secondary levels, it is 83%.


is the proportion of female teachers in the school year 2016/17 at secondary level I. It has increased by 4% since 2010.


of the teachers at upper secondary level are men. They also make up the majority at 60% in public basic vocational training.


That is how much the proportion of male students at teacher training colleges increased between 2011 and 2017.


This year, the number of female teachers in public schools in Switzerland exceeded that of men for the first time. Since then, the teachers have been in the majority.

For Marcel Helbig, initiatives for more men at primary school start far too late. "When the children start school, their gender identity formation has long since begun." Even in day-care centers, many things go “cruelly wrong”, says Helbig: “You let the children choose what they want to play, and that always ends with all the girls going to the painting and doll rooms and all the boys to the building rooms . " Same-sex play partners are preferred in preschool age. "All children should also do things that are not their first choice, otherwise the tendency towards their own gender increases."

“When I was 30 I thought: Going to school for another 35 years would be extremely long. In terms of content, I would like to learn something new again. "

In all the discussions about ideal gender quotas in schools, one thing has been forgotten: Neither the support programs nor the increasing number of students at the universities of teacher education have changed the reality in the classrooms so far. The proportion of men in primary school has even fallen slightly in the last seven years, from 19 to 16 percent. What's wrong here?

Silvio Herzog is rector of the PH Schwyz, and he has researched how the professional careers of teachers develop. Not only did men choose to become teachers less often, they also stayed in the teaching profession for significantly less time than women, he says. The 2018 Education Report has just confirmed this finding again. Herzog asked dropouts about their motives. Men quickly thought about their future, he says: "For many men it is important to create a professional career."

These possibilities are limited in schools today. Most primary school teachers who give up teaching remain loyal to the field of education. Many dropouts change their function at school, some become curative educators, others headmasters. Or they teach at a teacher training college or get involved in administration. "So you specialize - something that is not possible in the primary school teacher profession," says Herzog. In order to make the apprenticeship more attractive, according to Herzog, meaningful career prospects have to be created. Bloss: which one?

Marcel Volkart, 53, is such a dropout. After training at the teachers' college in Lucerne, he worked as a primary school teacher for nine years. "When I was 30 I thought: Going to school for another 35 years would be extremely long," he says. He actually liked almost everything about his job: the pedagogy, the many subjects, dealing with children and parents. But the primary school curriculum began to bore him. "In terms of content, I would like to learn something new again."

Volkart completed a law degree in St. Gallen and after graduation worked for some time at the court. Then he returned to education and headed the legal service of the Thurgau Education Department. He has never completely stopped teaching and has kept a few legal lessons in adult education until recently. For three years he has been the head of the Thurgau Office for Vocational Education and Training. A cadre and wage level that he would never have achieved as a primary school teacher. When he started his professional life, he would choose the apprenticeship again at any time: "Being a teacher is like insurance: you know you can go back at any time."

Celibacy for teachers

The courtship for more men in primary schools also has a demographic background: by 2025, the number of pupils should reach a record high, and experts expect the teacher shortage to worsen by then.

In the old days it was women who, depending on the demographic, economic or political situation, were brought into the teaching profession or - for example by means of female teachers' celibacy: teachers were not allowed to be married - tried to force them out again. In a competition held by the Bernese Cantonal Teachers' Association in 1847, a secondary teacher from Sumiswald criticized the fact that the hiring of female teachers jeopardized the status of teachers: because they cost less wages and - unlike men - they also teach 200 hours free of charge at so-called labor schools in addition to regular lessons some communities prefer women. When there was a shortage of teachers in Switzerland from the 1960s to the mid-1970s, female teacher celibacy was lifted and the number of female teachers rose sharply.

Today the teaching profession is one of the most flexible when it comes to working hours. This is sometimes a reason why so many women take it up, but often do it on a small part-time basis. This is of little use against a lack of teachers. In addition to the men's support projects, some cantons are therefore considering a minimum or compulsory workload for primary school teachers. In Geneva the minimum is already 50 percent. The proportion of men is no higher there than anywhere else.

Education politicians also have high hopes for teacher training for career changers. However, the first data for the graduating cohorts 2013 and 2015 are sobering. They show that only slightly more men take up the teaching profession with these programs, and a 50-50 rate is still a long way off.

Everything except religion

Thomas Arnold, 27, is one such career changer. Before he became a teacher, he trained as a commercial clerk. However, it is difficult to imagine the man with the dark blonde beard, jeans, Puma shirt and colored armbands sitting at an office table. "I'm an enthusiastic scout leader, I've always liked children, and it runs in the family too: my two brothers are teachers, and my father was one too," he says. Teacher, that is neither a woman nor a man profession for him. "Today you are slowly getting away from this division of roles," says Arnold and laughs.

But the reality is still different in the small school building on Gotthardstrasse in Amsteg, Canton Uri. Thomas Arnold is the only man here. He is a sixth grade teacher and teaches everything except religion. When asked what he does differently than his colleagues, he ponders for a long time. “Maybe I will focus more on competitions in physical education,” he finally speculates. He let the children compete against each other more often than their colleagues.

The second difference that comes to mind is the way the classroom is furnished. His style is probably a bit more sober than that of the teachers. Arnold's coat of arms, maps of Switzerland or English numerals hang on the walls. Tissue paper flowers, a corner with colorful pillows or pictures of baby animals are missing.

When asked whether boys were more comfortable with him than girls, he said no. He received reactions to his gender mainly at parents' evenings: "Many fathers and mothers think it's great that a man stands in front of them." Arnold recently had his students evaluate himself. The verdict: "medium strict". Both the boys and the girls thought so.

Series: This is how parenting works

Next Sunday the 21stOctober, read in the fifth episode of the series why puberty is the best time of life. The children no longer listen and absolutely do not want to be helped: Many parents are overwhelmed when their children are slowly fledging. It doesn't have to be: praise for puberty. You can find all episodes of the series here.