Northern Ireland news

New male teachers relishing the chance to make a difference in young lives

Paul Gunning, Lukas Arkinson, Ruairi Geehan and Michael Mullan will graduate as teachers this week from St Mary's University College. Picture by Hugh Russell

FOR one group of young men due to become fully-qualified teachers, being a positive role model to their young students is also a challenge they relish.

A blend of primary and post-primary students at St Mary's University College, they took different routes into teacher education.

In its marketing and recruitment activities, St Mary's seeks to increase the number of male applicants.

Teacher education is highly competitive and successful candidates typically score highly in A-levels. Girls do better than boys at A-level.

About 20 per cent of students taking BEd primary and post-primary degrees at St Mary's are male.

A higher proportion apply - 38 per cent seeking post-primary places are men. But, males make up 28 per cent of enrolments.

For primary, the figures are 27 and 16 per cent.

The institution's admissions policy states that it promotes equality of opportunity for all applicants.

All four said the main hurdles men needed to clear were societal - stereotypes, traditional values and perceived roles.

Lukas Arkinson (31) from Strabane came into teacher education after serving 12 years in the Irish Army.

He admitted not enjoying his own school experience but pursued teaching as he wanted to have a positive influence on young lives.

"I think I lacked that influence when I was younger. I did not enjoy school, but that was me. I wanted to make a difference and see the world," he said.

"If you asked every teacher in our class to list 10 reasons why they wanted to be a teacher, I'd say seven of those reasons would be the same. We all have similar ideas - we want to inspire, motivate, engage and excite."

Academics claim peer pressure convinces some men to avoid primary education, as it is perceived as female only.

Few staff in Key Stage 1 are men, but Paul Gunning (23) from Maghera said he never had any doubt that he wanted to be a P1 teacher.

Coming from a family with a history of education, he had to wait for his opportunity to train having initially missed out on a place.

He had completed his first year in sports science but had no hesitation switching degrees after repeating his PE A-level.

"I always said I wanted to be a P1 teacher, from since when I was in fourth year in school," he said.

"I knew it was female dominated. I would not say there was any peer pressure. I had made it clear that I wanted to work in a primary school."

Ruairi Geehan (22) from Glengormley credits his time at Edmund Rice College with inspiring him to pursue teaching.

"My teachers really cared, you were not a number there," he said.

"I felt indebted to the teachers, they had given up so much time and went above and beyond."

He added that he was the only male in his post-primary RE class at St Mary's but said it was important that there was gender balance in schools.

"It is nice to go into a school and see men in the classroom. There may well be more males looking for jobs, but who don't get them."

Michael Mullan (28) was another late arrival into teaching, and also plans to work in primary. He said he had an excellent experience at Holy Cross Boys PS in Ardoyne.

"I always had an idea that I wanted to be a teacher and help set a good example for people - I think primary school is the best place to do that," he said.

"There have been a lot of schools I've been to where I have been the only man. Even here, it is not something that is at the forefront of your head, even in a class of 17 girls."

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