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Men and the Call to Teach

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Lead from the Start: Men and the Call to Teach

Monday, September 01, 2008

Men and the Call to Teach

ABC news ran a story on the "Mistrusted Male Teacher" August 28th. It points out the inherent difficulties of being a male teacher in the early grades. As one of the fewest of the few, a male teacher in early childhood, I read the story with my own biases. Bryan Nelson, a 30 year veteran teacher summed up the lack of men in teaching this way,
"People don't think of men as caretaking or nurturing, which many of the young grades require," Nelson said. "And if you're a single man and you're going out to date somebody, when they ask you 'what do you do?' it just doesn't have the same cache as saying I'm an engineer or a scientist."
I haven't had a lot of problems with parents and issues of trust, but I have had my share. I once had a parent who told me to my face, "I wish my daughter had any other teacher than you." Some folks might have asked that the child be taken out of their room. I invited the parent to come in and watch what we do. ... every day. She came in for almost the entire year. I basically took her child from zero reading skills to reading in a year. We got along better and better over the course of the year. When it was all said and done, by the end of the year, she still didn't trust me. There was nothing I could do to change her opinion except continue to be open and honest with her. I have sometimes thought that maybe I was doing my boy students a disservice by being capable of teaching them as active boys only to send them to kindergarten to fail because they "couldn't sit still," or didn't seem to "pay attention." But, I also know that for some I have been their first introduction to what a caring man can be. I have even been able to help some kids with fathers because the fathers are more comfortable volunteering in my classroom. They see how they can care without being weak and nurture without giving up their masculinity.

Another recent article, Herland by L. J. WIlliamson, talks about this same issue. The author took a different point of view, sighting the lack of men in child care and teaching as contributing to keeping women, "in their place." She writes,
Of course, it won't be long before these kids get old enough to start noticing things like the fact that our country has never had a female president, or that male teachers typically don't come into their schooling until the academics get more serious. By that point, many will come away with the impression that caring for small children is women's work, and for the most part, they'll be right.

Also quoted in the article was this quote from William Marsiglio, Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida and author of Men On A Mission: Valuing Youth Work In Our Communities. He says,
"We pay our mechanics more to work on our cars than we pay people to watch our kids, which tells you something about our values. As long as we as society continue to perpetuate the narrative that being nurturing to children is inherently a gendered process, we'll never have gender equity. It will continue to be a society in which women are disadvantaged, and males are given an excuse not to be involved. "

I think the thing that bothered me about that ABC article is that it treated the chance of your child getting a "bad" male teacher or "good" male teacher as 50/50. Its just not like that. Most of the men who teach, especially in the younger grades, are teachers because they felt a call to teach. They aren't closet perverts or weak human beings. My greatest mentor was a male instructional assistant who also happened to be a minister. He felt a calling to teaching as he felt a calling to serve God. Perhaps if people thought of teaching the way that most teachers do there would be less fear. To most teachers, teaching is a calling, it is my calling, and it could be the calling of other young men, if they aren't pushed away from the field by the lack of social standing, pay, and support for being there.

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At 6:08 PM, Blogger Hall Monitor said...

Hasn't it been the female teachers that have been in the news lately for all the sex scandals?

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Erik Robson said...

See also:

"Why Are Male Teachers Absent From Classrooms?"

"The value of the male schoolteacher"

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish there were more male teachers. My favorite teacher was my 5th grade teacher - he not only made sure we learned what we needed, but kept us in line! Our schools need both - as both have strengths and points of view to offer.

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Nancy Flanagan said...

Hey, John.

SO--I'm really old. I started teaching in 1974, and if you had told me then that in 2008, there would be even less representation (gender and racial diversity) in the teaching profession, I would have been stunned. It really seemed as if we were moving toward more males shucking off tradition and seeing themselves as nurturing and creative.

In my first year, in our grade 5/8 building, there were more men than women. In the elementary building next door, there were 8 male teachers out of 24 total, and the (male) principal was upfront about his goal to increase the number of men in elementary grades. At one point, we had two male kindergarten teachers (both of whom played the guitar).

So what happened? Beats me. I suspect that what we had in the 70s was an outgrowth of progressive ideas about education, and a political swing to the right in America gave traditionalists more power. But I'm not sure.

In my district, there are 4 elementary buildings now, and in two of them, there is only one male teacher (in P.E. and Music). That means only 3 male elementary classroom teachers out of a staff of 275. What a loss.


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