Chris Porteous - PhD - Critical Studies in Education

Chris Porteous completed a Master of Education (counselling) in 2010 and then a Postgraduate Diploma in teaching (primary) in 2013. He is currently a full-time guidance and careers counsellor at an all-boys’ secondary school in Auckland.

Chris Porteous has a Bachelor of Science (biology) and a Postgraduate Diploma (counselling). He studied for his masters and teaching degrees so that he could do the respective jobs of counselling and teaching. He is loving his experience as a doctoral candidate (Critical Studies in Education).

“It feels like such a privilege to be able to learn and engage at this level. Expanding my knowledge in an area I’m so passionate about and then being able to share this learning with others has been amazing.

“I also have incredible supervisors (Associate Professor Kirsten Locke (primary) and Professor Louisa Allen) who have been so supportive and inspiring. I am in awe of their knowledge, wisdom and experience.”

The only downside that Chris had during this experience was that he had to study as a part-time student.

“My wife and I started this PhD journey with one kid and have since added two more. That’s been great of course, but the realities of life mean I can’t quit my full-time job as a school guidance counsellor.”

Most of his study work gets done in the evenings or during school holidays.

“The holidays in particular have been a bit of a lifeline. I see them as sprint sessions in many ways.”

Chris says his PhD, is really just a passion project in many ways.

“I had a really rough time at school, being bullied for years effectively for not being ‘masculine’ enough. Other students would mock me for the way I spoke and acted, and that I couldn’t play sports.”

Many of his peers presumed Chris must be gay and he was made to feel that this was not an acceptable way to be.

The pressure to conform to socially constructed ideas of gender is huge and has a massive impact on young people. Because of my own experiences, I wanted to understand more about these pressures and be able to contribute to this field of study. I have no idea where it will lead and I have no specific ‘job’ in mind, but I knew I just needed to engage in this field in a more direct way.

Chris Porteous

At this stage he isn’t sure exactly where his doctoral qualification will take him but says for him that’s pretty exciting.

“I turned 40 not so long ago and it feels like a whole new exciting part of my life is opening up in the next few years.”

Chris aims to finish his PhD by the end of next year and his goal over the next 18 months is to explore what his options might be, including a career in academia. In his doctoral work, Chris is exploring masculinity at a New Zealand all boys’ school, through the experiences of Year 9 students.

“Boys’ schools are inherently gendered and so are the ideals that they promote. Through exploring student experience, I want to understand how these ideals encourage or hinder expansive concepts of gender.

“I want to understand the effects of things such as uniform policies, speeches from the principal, assessment systems, the honours on display, the people held up as examples, to follow or to avoid. How are students shaped by these effects? Do they feel that they belong, or isolated and deficient?”

As part of his research, Chris went walking with 14 Year 9 boys 3-4 times each around the campus of their school, a single-sex boys’ school in Auckland, New Zealand.

They walked around the field, through the library and other places where the boys hung out. They walked through the assembly hall and sat together on hard wooden benches while they shared what they had seen and heard in that space. The boys shared the experiences of their first year. In particular, Chris asked the boys about the expectations they felt and what it meant to be the ‘ideal’ man at their school.

“Walking together provided a tangible understanding of what the students were telling me. They told me about their perceptions of a masculine ideal and how they fit into that ideal, or didn’t.”

One of the highlights of the study is the interviews with the boys. Chris is starting to see themes emerge in the data, giving him more of an understanding about the complexity and nuances of the issues raised.

“It’s been fascinating to hear about the boys’ own experiences and gain understand more about their lives, and what their life at school is like for them.

People often think masculinity is about toughness, sports and ‘getting the girl’. These aspects barely featured in what the students in my study had to say. For them, the ideal man at their school was about respect, humility, effort. It was about a continuous goal to be better. To keep your socks up, shirt tucked in, to show that you cared about your place in that community. The descriptions of this ideal were strikingly consistent. However, the experiences of achieving this ideal varied greatly.

Chris Porteous

“One of the questions that has emerged through my research is how schools can address the complexity of the student experience, and how schools can shape cultures and narratives to create more inclusive spaces and expansive ideas of gender - I hope it's here that my research can have an impact.

“To see school cultures from an institutional level down develop more expansive concepts of masculinity and gender. Therefore contributing nuance to the discussions around these issues in education.”

It’s still early in his analysis, but Chris says it is clear that these issues are complex.

“The temptation can be to see aspects of a school as inherently good or bad, but the reality is much more nuanced. If schools gain deeper understandings of the link between their cultures and student experience, they will be better equipped to create environments that support students to flourish.

“No one school can suit every student, and this study will not provide a silver bullet for inclusive masculinity. It will however contribute to the wider conversation on the effects of gendered cultures.

“As a teenager, my experience of masculinity at school was one where I felt pressured to justify my identity. My hope is that as this conversation continues, our schools can increasingly become spaces of empowerment and belonging.”

Chris entered the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition because he loves public speaking and is energised by sharing his study. 

“I loved the challenge and process of refining the explanation of my study to get it down to under three minutes while doing it justice…ensuring that the essence of my study was captured.

“Where the challenge came for me in this competition was the need to effectively memorise the script. With it having to be so succinct, there was really no room for error to stay under time. It really got to me!"

The presentation didn't go quite as well as Chris had hoped, with a mind blank that stumbled him.

"I still loved the experience and the challenge. I also took two class sessions the next day at my school on anxiety, so I had a great story to share with the students about my own experience! It was also so inspiring hearing from the other speakers and seeing the diversity of ideas coming out of the faculty.”

Chris will definitely be back for 2024 3MT competition, but probably with cue cards.

When asked what advice he would give to someone considering postgraduate study in Education, Chris’s response was ‘do it!’

If you’re able to do it, even part-time, it’s such an incredibly rewarding experience. It doesn’t need to tie specifically into a specific ‘job’ or pathway. Learning for the sake of it, especially when you’re passionate about the topic, is incredibly inspiring!

Chris Porteous