Men Among Women
Thirty-two years ago, I studied at the University of Miami to be a high school teacher. My life plan was derailed, however, by the head of the elementary school department. He persuaded me to switch to elementary school teaching, claiming a lack of male teachers. Since that time, I have worked in grades 4 through 6.
Although a member of the tiny minority of men teaching in elementary school, I’ve never faced the problems described in the story about kindergarten teacher Bert Morgan (“Odd Man Out,” September 1996). When parents found out I was to be their child’s teacher, they usually felt good about it. I was the only male teacher their child had, they said, and that pleased them. Nor can I remember one time when anyone even remotely suggested I do something else other than teach. No one has ever made fun of me or questioned my masculinity. It has just never come up. And never once have I been questioned by a female colleague because I was a man. I have had only the best of working relations with my female co-workers.
Still, I’m not blind to the irrational possibilities and probable horrors that come with being an elementary school teacher. As a steward for the United Teachers of Dade, I am constantly admonishing other male teachers about the potential risks and repercussions of innocently touching a student--male or female. Thirty-two years ago, giving a student a hug or a simple touch was an important part of being a teacher. But, in the last decade, many things have changed. I don’t touch anyone. I know that the line I walk as a male elementary school teacher is finer than it is for a female teacher.
But, honestly, being one of the few men teaching in elementary school reminds me of the axiom of the Marine Corps, of which I used to be a member: “The few, the proud . . .”
Virginia Boone Highland Oaks Elementary School
Pembroke Pines, Florida
Your article about males teaching the elementary grades left an impression on me. I am a college freshman majoring in elementary education. I have known that I want to be a teacher since the end of 4th grade. All this time, however, I have never thought that people might believe that men do not make good elementary school teachers.
Teaching is the most important profession; children are our future. Your article helped me realize even more that it doesn’t matter if teachers are men or women as long as they care about children and enjoy what they are doing. We are all equal in the eyes of children.
I will become an elementary teacher, and I will not be discouraged by doubters who think that I will do a less than adequate job because I am a man. Your article and Bert Morgan have helped plant this idea in my mind even deeper, and I thank you for that.
In response to the articles about teacher shortages and teachers who lack training (“Help Wanted,” October 1996, and “Where The Jobs Are,” May/June 1996), such reporting is untrue. There is a glut of certified teachers in the state of Washington who want classrooms to call their own. In the Puget Sound area alone, there are more than 2,000 qualified teachers looking for work. I received a letter from a principal with two positions to fill who said, “We had a pool of 119 well-qualified individuals.” Another school last month reported 12 finalists for a 1st grade position. There is no teacher shortage. The media have been telling us for more than 20 years that there is a teacher shortage. But that’s essentially a ploy to keep the college and university education professors employed.
The argument that teachers need more training is also an out-and-out lie. We attend accredited colleges and universities to study and become teachers. We are certified by the state to teach in our area of specialty. Any testing that needs to be done should be done before receiving our degrees. If a teaching certificate is to mean something, it should be a national certificate so graduates can go anywhere in the United States and teach. That would solve any teacher shortage, and it would give meaning to our degrees and teaching certificates. We want to teach!
Reading “Look Back In Anger,” (October 1996) stirred many painful, humiliating memories I experienced in my early years of school. The looks, the condescending remarks, and the embarrassment controlling educators bestowed on their students scarred many souls.
Jane Tompkins tapped into the unconscious behavior teachers may have suppressed deep within themselves. After reading her article, I stepped back and honestly reevaluated my teaching. In my interactions with students, I have made a conscious effort never to chip away at a child’s self-esteem, as my teachers did. Rather, I have recognized and commented on all the positive efforts of my students. Teaching with patience and understanding can only help our youth go forward in peace instead of looking back and feeling the anger. Thanks for such a great article.
North Bellmore, New York
Sizing Up Sizer
After nine years of working with Ted Sizer and our 20 years of friendship, I’ve got to say your profile of him (“The Essential Ted Sizer,” October 1996) got inside Ted, the person. Half a dozen times, I murmured, “You got it--that’s Ted.”
Good for you for calling him “America’s most famous education reformer.” And I guess you’re right--he’s got to be tired. As for his idealism, I guess it’s fate to fall short. But, oh, what a glorious human and what glorious efforts.
Though I grudgingly accept the label “elite” used to describe the Phillips Academy, I don’t accept the notion that the school is stocked with “precocious students from prominent families.” Not when the academy spends $7 million per year on student financial aid, and not when it has significant diversity that is greater than at many suburban schools.
I am an education student at Eastern Michigan University, and I am embarrassed by the decision by Michigan state officials to stop certifying education administrators (“Who Should Run Schools?” September 1996). It casts Michigan in a negative light to be known as the only state that does not require certification of our principals. Also, there is talk of eliminating the certification requirement for teachers. Talk such as this diminishes the value of the profession and adds to the already negative public attitudes about teaching.
Who would go to a doctor who is not certified? If John Engler, our governor, and his supporters think there are unqualified teachers out there now, just think of what it would be like without certification.
This is a bad decision, and I hope officials reconsider. They have no chance of getting a better education system without teachers and principals who are qualified.
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A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1996 edition of Teacher as Letters