The world used to be simpler once. It is a matter of fact that as you grow older your certainties gradually need an upgrade if you want to keep up with times. Let’s talk about genders, for example. For a long time of my life I was convinced that there were just two: male and female. I was wrong. It is incorrect. In fact, I have learnt advancing in years that there are more: transgender, gender-fluid, non-binary and I am afraid I am missing many others. Nonetheless, despite this colourful world out there, there is one place, which remains grey. A place where even the old tedious male/female dualism struggles to survive and I am talking about – guess what? – school. Women are on average the 80-85% of the teaching force in Italy, hence, school has become de facto the realm of women. But, is this constant feminization of school a good thing? As, of course, the female gender distinctive traits cannot but characterize the work environment eventually, but, who is going to balance them?
One of the female features which has been clearly affecting school in recent years is the so called “maternage” attitude, which tends to enhance the idea that teaching consists mostly in protecting, justifying and understanding. This is what mothers do. More than once I have found myself being told by colleagues, that as I have no children, I might be unable to understand a particular psychological condition that a student may suffer. What ticks me off is not only the lack of delicacy, as they cannot know the reason why I didn’t have children – I didn’t want them, for the record – but the assumption that to do this job well, you have to be a mother. Well, I firmly believe that it is exactly the other way round, as mothering is not part of this job. Teaching is a completely different kind of occupation. The custom of associating mothering to teaching generates only chaos, as the boundaries of teachers’ and parents’ duties are too often blurred in this way.
Think it well, for teachers being maternal is much simpler, as giving rules and have them followed, educating, testing, grading and such, is what makes us all enter into fighting mode against parents, admin and students in this precise order and it may be the cause of lots of troubles. Mothers/teachers’ approach is warmer and apparently smooth. So, if Paolino often misses classes, mothers/teachers become his shadow and inform the family about it (despite the glorious invention of the electronic register); if Paolino does not come to take the test, they check if on those days there were maybe too many tests, and make sure he will come next time, usually promising a less demanding scenario; if Paolino while smoking in the toilet sets the school on fire, they try to understand what brought Paolino to act like this (and they’d better find something solid, as someone let him go in there and it usually ends up being teachers’ fault too). Eventually, because of this mothering attitude students are never to be blamed, (real) parents are never responsible and teachers…..keep complaining, but who is the cause of all this mess?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that women are not good at teaming, and school is the sheer demonstration of this statement. I know, it is such a clichés, and I am sure there are excellent exceptions somewhere, and I have even met some, but, this is just a general rule which derives from experience and observation. The fact that women are not good at team working has been explained anthropologically, pointing out that teaming is in men’s DNA since the beginning of times. Men were in charge of the sustainment of the tribe and went all together on hunting trips or to make war. Playing team games is something you have learnt since boyhood, while for girls things have always been a bit different. I need a metaphor, girls have always developed a sort of….. “etoile” attitude.
In short, while it is natural for the group of males to develop a strategy together in order to provide food/victory, because they’ve learnt to understand the advantages of being part of a group in order to survive, women, having been raised as etoiles, enjoy dancing solos, that is, they aim at being admired for their qualities or skills. They want to be protagonists, but what happens when a group of etoiles is in charge of planning a common development strategy? I leave that to your imagination. Who is used to working/playing in a team knows that success lies in confiding in the most valiant actors and in the leader, and here is another distinctive female trait : women struggle in recognizing the leadership of another woman. The little etoile inside us means to be the star of the show and wants to lead the dance. Get in her way and she’ll trip you. This is how school dynamics work. Lots of solos, even good ones, but when the exhibition ends, nothing more remains. The residual 15% of men in the teaching force does not even try – remember, as a general rule – to change this trend. They mostly choose the convenient role of spectators or, much worse, start to learn ballerinas’ steps.
At this point a good question would be: what prevents men from choosing the teaching career ? Well, it obvious, the salary is not attractive, that is all. While on the other side, women find the working hours attractive, which allow them to perform the duties and responsibilities of being a daughter, a mother or a grandmother. This means that many of us have chosen to be teachers to have more time to do…… something else. If it is so, couldn’t that be reason why the salary is so low? Don’t you suspect that men’s underrepresentation in the profession is one of the reasons why a teacher salary can be kept so low? We need more men. It is time to admit it and only a pay bump could spur a virtuous cycle, thus drawing a greater representation of men in the profession. School cannot be the realm of women forever, it doesn’t work and we all know it well.