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September 18, 2008

Men and the Call to Teach

Cover 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 the classroom, but 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 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 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 sort of treated the chance of your child getting a "bad" male teacher or "good" male teacher as 50/50. It's just not like that. 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. 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.

My friend also forwarded these articles to me about men in the teaching profession.
"Why Are Male Teachers Absent From Classrooms?"

"The value of the male schoolteacher"

Photo courtesy of: http://www.uppercasegallery.ca 



Thank you so much for this post.

As a single mom raising a son, I can't express my gratitude enough for who you are and what you do in spite of the gender bias that comes with the territory. We've had two male teachers, one for pre-k and one for kindergarten. Each has played a positive role in my son's cognitive learning and overall development. But even more significant, Matthew and Mr. Lawrence have laid *the* standard when it comes to what men do, how they act towards children, how empathetic they are as individuals, etc. This perspective has in turn created my son’s understanding of who men are. The behaviors that they model, the ones that all of us should strive for in our interactions with children, have become his expectation of how men should, and do, behave.

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