On being a teacher

Two weeks ago I read Annette Henry’s article “Feminist Theories in Education” which made me reflect on my experience as a female teacher in Russia, and a PhD student in Education here in UBC.

In Russian language nouns have an assigned gender. For example, English word ‘a teacher’ would have two Russian variants: ‘uchitel’ (a male teacher) and ‘uchitelnitsa’ (a female teacher). When I searched ‘uchitel’ online this picture came up. Obviously, this is not a man in that picture. To be fair, there were other pictures in the search result, but a male figure appearred on the 6th line (and it was one of those Word clip art pictures).
So I wonder, why…

When it comes to being a teacher, we seem to be facing some strange double standard. I went to a pedagogical university, that meant that all the 25000 students received teacher training courses in addition to their major. In my class of 160 students in the modern languages department there were only 5 men. The only reason they were in that particular university was because they could not get into a different program, and they were being constantly teased as “the roosters in the hencoop”. Most of our professors were men though, and the major scholars in Russian pedagogy are also men.

The same contradiction extends to the teaching profession. Here I turn to statistics on Russian educational system, that I found online.
Before the revolution there were more male teachers in schools. After 1917 revolution women received a broader access to education and started claiming the teaching profession as their own. For them it was an act of defiance. Then the Second World War happened and did not spare teachers, being male many of them had to enlist. Few of men returned from the war front. In the 1980s the school had about 30% of men due to the ration in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus, where traditionally the society is more patriarchal and men have a revered status. Today still most male teachers work in the Republics of Dagestan (35.69 %) and Chechnya (21.01%). Least of all male teachers work in the industrial regions of Karelia (7.63 %) and Sverdlovsk (8.43 %), and in the financial hub of Russia the Moscow region (8.69 %). Male/female ratio is observed as following:
Female teachers in urban schools – 91.2%
Female teachers in rural schools – 82.7%

Female school principals in urban schools – 74.0%
Female school principals in rural schools – 65.0%

That is, about 8.8% of teachers in urban schools are male, while the 26% of school principals are male. Only 3.2% all female teachers work as principals, in contrast to the 8.4% of male teachers who work as principals. The higher the level of education authorities, the more men are given the lead. Two thirds of leaders of the regional education authorities are men. Since 1991 there have been six ministers of education in Russia, but this position has never been given to a woman.

Every year Russian Ministry of Education holds a national ceremony of recognition of professional achievements among Russian school teachers. Since most of teachers in schools as statistics show are women, there are twice as many women as men in the competition. Regardless, in the fifteen years of the ceremony, only two women have been awarded the prize: a French language teacher Catherine Filipova and a primary school teacher Zinaida Klimentovskaya.

It seems that being a teacher is a woman’s job, but to be an outstanding teacher you have to be a man. Not because men are better at teaching, but because there are so few in the school. The acknowlegement of men in the school system is supposed to show that this profession can be prestigious. As if the presence of men in the profession is an indicator if its prestige.

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