Boys who dare don't care: unwanted men, the performing arts and perplexing disruptions to the male teacher discourse

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What the resource is:
This paper, presented at BERA 2009, focuses upon boys' perceptions of male teachers as role models to encourage greater participation in the arts. It is highlighted from the evidence, however, that male role models are not required and that "the wrong kind of man will not do". What is underlined is a set of key characteristics for the teacher who is better than good.


The aims of the resource:
The research questions are: 

  • Does the finding that 9 - 14 year old boys perceive teacher gender as a peripheral issue in core subjects apply also to subjects such as the performing arts?
  • Is the belief that male role models are necessary to support boys' participation in the performing arts substantiated by evidence?


Based upon issues underpinning boys' achievement and behaviour, the author (Ashley, 2009) refers to a commonly expressed view regarding the feminist nature of schools. It is argued that continuous campaigning to attract male recruits as role models to improve boys' education might have the opposite effect, where, for example, the appointment of the wrong male teachers might be counterproductive. An extensive literature review precedes the focus of the paper, "boys who dare", referring to those who choose a route suggested as not conforming to the masculine norm; those involved in the performing arts, singing and dancing, for example. The literature identifies the importance of role models and the significance of these, referring to family members, personalities and the imitation of the qualities they possess.


Key findings or focus:
In this paper, three qualitative studies were examined: one which involved approximately 600 children aged between 11 and 14 responding to the work of 12 boy vocalists; a second involving ten male dancers with a mean age of 25; and the third, a development of study one but involving film and music. The findings suggest it is not so much about having a male teacher, but the identification of essential characteristics which can be attributed to that teacher, male or female. The necessity is for teachers to be skilled in the knowledge and pedagogy of their subject, and who possess the confidence and belief that boys will and can engage in their subject. It is more than just good teaching that is highlighted, the prerequisite being a passion that goes beyond that of the subject but also for the students in the teacher's care. It is suggested that, if there are no teachers (female or male) who possess the qualities and skills to encourage boys' achievement in the arts, then they will continue to avoid these areas of the curriculum. 


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:
This article, with respect to ITE, is very important, not just for the focus on performing arts, but for every subject in the curriculum. It emphasises key characteristics for teachers to be better than good, which involves more than just the necessity for knowledge of pedagogy and subject, but a passion and belief in what the subject can offer. The focus of this paper recognises the importance of both male and female teachers, and emphasises the need to believe that all males have the potential to achieve in whatever subject it is. With respect to the focus upon singing and dance and the stereotypes this sometimes conjures up, there is a need for teachers to be sensitive to individuals' attainment and achievement. Dance is within the domain of the physical education curriculum in many schools; it is therefore important for both male and female physical education teachers to be pro-active when considering the teaching of this subject to young people and to communicate the positive participatory nature of the subject.


With respect to male role models and the specific interest in male teachers, the research provokes questions, particularly when it is identified that "the wrong kind of man will not do". The research, therefore, recognises the need for all teachers, particularly male PE teachers, to communicate the positive aspects of the subject to boys and young men. Although the research focussed upon singing and dance, there is a need to look further than the practice examined here. The paper explores boys' attainment in the arts and the argument for the appropriateness of male role models, and it is realised that there are key characteristics which make a significant difference; for example, and from personal experience, there are pockets of excellent work where boys' dance is exceptionally well received in schools, the community and on a national stage. 


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
The implication and potential impact of this paper on teaching practice in general is very important. In this paper, the significance of inclusion and motivation on boys' attainment and achievement is recognised specifically within the performing arts. ITE tutors/mentors and students could consider music and dance as discrete subjects, and what these can offer boys and young men. Where dance is a subject under the umbrella of physical education, PE tutors and students should recognise where there could be greatest impact is the acknowledgement of teachers skilled in the pedagogy and content of this subject who possess the passion to enthuse, motivate and include. To successfully encourage participation in the arts there also needs to be confidence that boys can, and a belief that they will, achieve to the best of their ability. The main implication reiterated is the importance of the effective expert teacher, skilled in the pedagogy and content of their subject, whatever that subject is.


The relevance to ITE students:
The paper is very important to ITE students generally, as it acknowledges excellence in practice.  Although there is a focus on the performing arts and boys' attainment, the research findings can be applied to any subject and to any teacher. Within the paper there are comments from the participants which do provide a very interesting insight into boys' and young men's perceptions of teaching. The degree of sensitivity articulated, at times, can help the trainee teacher to be aware of situations and circumstances that can be used to support their professional development.



Connell, R. (2008) Masculinity construction and sports in boys' education: a framework for thinking about the issue, Sport, Education and Society, 13(2), 131-145


Gard, M. (2008) When a boy's gotta dance: New masculinities, old pleasures, Sport, Education and Society, 13(2), 181-193


Skelton, C., Carrington, B., Francis, B., Hutchings, M., Read, B. and Hall, I. (2009) Gender matters in the primary classroom: pupils' and teachers' perspectives, British Educational Research Journal, 35(2), 187-204.


Reviewed by:

Dr John Connell



boys, gender, teachers, role models, attainment

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