I Need a Man

A young boy is crying. He seeks out his favourite teacher and, when he finds her, she embraces him and tells him everything is going to be alright.

Most people hearing that scenario would have no issues with it; until you swap their gender.

A young girl is crying. She seeks out her favourite teacher and, when she finds him, he embraces her and tells her everything is going to be alright.

All of a sudden there are some concerns, some sideways glances and raised eyebrows.

I am a teacher. I identify as male. In my career I have been put in a position where I have to ignore human nature because of the perception my actions could incur. I don’t know about you but when someone is crying my natural reaction is to want to comfort them. I can’t do this in my profession for fear of losing my career.

As a part of their training, teachers are told to avoid private dialogue with students. We are encouraged to not be in a room alone with students, to ensure there is always a crowd, to keep all doors open, to remain visible. We are told to be firm and fair but not friendly. We have a governing body called Standards and Integrity that assesses our conduct and investigates allegations against us.

There is something about this whole process that doesn’t sit right. In a court of law you are innocent until proven guilty but in the classroom it feels like that guilt is already assumed. It’s a real shame that we constantly have to think about perception and protecting ourselves because I absolutely love my job.

I’ve encouraged others into teaching too. 7 of my year 12s in the last 2 years are exploring teaching as future careers. Disappointingly, they are all female.

In WA women outnumber men in teaching roles by more than 1 to 5. This is particularly evident in our primary schools where only 17.2% of teachers are men.

We’re actually fortunate at CBC where, in our English department, we have 4 males in an office that houses 16 teachers and 3 EAs. Fortunate! We’re lucky to have similar representation in science, mathematics and S&E.

It is a profession dominated by women because it is a nurturing role and western society has traditionally associated this with the feminine. When the public see men in these roles they are quick to label them as deviants – I know, I’ve done it myself. I felt the unease when a male started working at the daycare centre my kids attended despite the fact I work in education myself. We jump to these conclusions because the media sensationalises reports about child pornography, popular media glamorises student-teacher relationships and the “sexy” school girl look is a common archetype in adult and mainstream media.

It’s hard because as long as these portrayals and reports continue to flood our media we will never shed this stigma. And we need to. The longer this stereotype or stigma exists, the harder it will be to entice males into teaching.

I worry about today’s youth. There has been so much social change in my lifetime alone.

Divorce and broken families appear common place.

Many children are being raised without male role models. Where, then, are they expected to learn how to act around each other, around the opposite sex, around people of different ethnicities or age or sexuality?

And this is with a traditional mindset towards gender. How scary and uncertain must the world be for anyone who doesn’t conform to the principles of male/female, masculine/feminine? Gender fluidity is real and we will never acknowledge this in our school systems if we can’t even get past the idea of men in the classroom.

We live in such fear of each other.

You only need to look at the terrorist witch hunts or the suppression of gay rights or women’s rights or black rights to see this on a global scale but it happens at local level too.

Recently a charity drive for the education of African girls was shut down in my school because a small handful of conservative staff members were offended by the notion of men wearing dresses for a day. Among their complaints was the suggestion that they “didn’t want to have to explain what being gay was”. This is despite the fact that the males who had confirmed their interest in taking part, myself included, were happily married heterosexuals. This narrow-mindedness is proof of the need for more diversity in our schools. This pig-headedness is proof of the need for more staff members with a modern mindset.

Not all of my students are heterosexual. Not all of my students identify as the gender that matches the sex they were born as. Not all of my students identify as male or female.

I want them to know that’s okay.

Not all of my students have parents that take an active interest in their lifestyle. Not all of my students have male role models at home.

I want them to know that’s okay too.

Not all of my students have had male role models at school.

I want you to know that’s not okay.

I want you to know that your child can be cared for, encouraged and supported without there being some deviant agenda. I want you to know that teachers want to see your child succeed not just in their classroom but in life.

And if you’re male, I want you to teach.

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