I had an epiphany today: teaching is man’s work. While historically a woman’s profession, it occurred to me that sometimes I am lacking the “strength” it takes to get myself in and out of the classroom on a daily basis. These days with education reform – face it; it’s privatization – requiring teachers to spend more time proving to people with no clue about education what wonderful educators we are, it’s no mystery why caffeine is my best friend. My “strength” comes in brown liquid form, but some days there isn’t enough coffee on the planet.
Once upon a long while ago, only single women were allowed teaching jobs, and they certainly couldn’t be dating. (There were some male teachers then.) Now that I reflect on it, the women then were single, living at home, helping with family chores, and they were also expected to care for the schoolhouse. I think those women had the right idea. Could you imagine throwing a husband and a child (or five) to take care of on top of making your own pens, grading papers, sweeping the floors, going to staff meetings, stoking the schoolhouse fire, having parent meetings, monitoring for drug abuse, checking to see if a student had food for over the weekend, going to IEP/504 meetings, lesson planning, supervising dances, proving to some ridiculous computer screen that you are a good teacher, attending sporting events, practicing for armed-intruder lock-out drills, and making sure your goals matched some inane guidelines created by people without ANY experience in education?
A man, married or single, has a LOT more freedom to take care of all this stuff as, more or less traditionally, it is the female who cares for the offspring, the laundry, the house. That nurturing spirit is what drives women into the profession. In fact, the number of women in the profession outweighs the number of men three times over. According to the Institute of Education Sciences, in 2008 the number of female teachers was at 76% while male teachers occupied only 24%. Still, even in 2014, nationwide most female teachers start at a paltry $35,000 a year. Interestingly, men who are expected to be the “breadwinners” will often choose another low-paying profession before going into the classroom because of the notion that teaching is “women’s work”. “Sissy stuff”. “Nurturing.” “Motherly.” “Matronly.” Uhm… HARDLY.
I say, let more men do what I do. I need a man’s strength to not break down in tears as I listen to the horrific stories I hear about my students’ home life. I need a man’s ability to remain composed when I witness a child speak disrespectfully to their own parent, or to calmly take a child to the counselor when they arrive at school covered in bruises or reeking of cigarette (or marijuana) smoke. I need a man’s stoic stance when I can tell a child is starving herself to embody society’s expectations. A male is able to “put himself first” on many occasions in the workplace, and on those days when I have heard enough about what happens beyond my control, I need to adopt that attitude before my head explodes. I need a man’s willpower to avoid throttling people that clearly do not have a student’s best interests at heart.
Oh, wait. I have all these things – I count myself fortunate to have the uncommon sense to know when to call upon them, and when a softer touch is required. This is the quiet strength all teachers possess as they take more abuse than any other profession in America. If you ask me, it takes as much courage to pick on a teacher as it does to kick puppies. (Shame on you, Time Magazine. And by the way, the saying is “Don’t let one rotten apple spoil the whole bunch.”)
So many people LACKING the aforementioned qualities feel they can bulldoze and belittle our profession, break a system that wasn’t broken to begin with, for what amounts to their personal gains. Male or female, it takes the lion-hearted to teach, and the lions are beginning to roar.