Lately there has been a lot of press about how boys are losing ground in school. 30 years ago, the concern was for girls not being given a chance to achieve all that they could. Girls are doing great now, thanks to Title IX and initiatives to encourage girls to study math and science, and go on to college and the medical and law professions. But boys are falling behind.
I have a solution for the problems boys face in dealing with school. That solution is men.
More of them, really involved with boys, inside and outside the classroom.
Girls have plenty of role models of what a smart woman looks like. They spend their days surrounded by them. The teaching profession attracts smart people. Most of them are women. Women can teach boys many things about academics, sports, socialization, manners, respect, courtesy, behavior. They can teach boys to be good men. But a boy needs to see what a good man is, every day, in real life.
We need male teachers. We need them in the classroom as well as in the gym, on the field, and in administration. We need them in math and science and also in English, music, art, languages. We need them in high school, in college, in middle school, and in elementary school. We need male teachers in preschools and child care centers.
Many of our little boys live in homes where there are no good men around. Some live in homes where there are no men at all. A male teacher may be the only contact they have with a man who believes that spending time motivating children to be the best person they can be is worthwhile. As young as preschool, a strong and professional male presence makes a difference in how some boys adjust to the school environment.
When my youngest boy entered kindergarten, like many working moms I needed a full day program. The local school was only half day, so I went to the local child care center for full day kindergarten. I had some reservations about my son being in kindergarten, as he was small, quiet, and his birthday was August 29. The pre-k teacher looked at me in disbelief when I asked what she thought of delaying his entry into Kindergarten. “Why would you want to slow him down?” she asked. “Besides, if he doesn’t belong in Kindergarten, the teacher will be sure to tell you and we will work it out.”
The kindergarten teacher was a young, energetic, African American man. He did things I have never seen women do in early childhood classrooms. When he shouted, often it was for joy or excitement. When he took the children outside, frequently the whole class was involved by their own choice in a modified tag football, red rover, capture the flag – and he was at the center of it! He ate lunch with them, and turned lunchtime into a positive social, relaxing time for everyone in the room. Those children had a man for a full year teaching them to love stories, solve problems, sing songs, and play games. But the most amazing thing is, he got my son to smile for his school picture
My youngest boy never smiled in pictures. He was shy, and the camera scared him. He would just stare, pretending it wasn’t there. But not in this man’s kindergarten! As my son sat for his picture, and put on his little “I am a sphinx and I hate the camera” face, the teacher caught sight of him and groaned “Oh come on, little man, where’s that smile?” He grinned, and my son grinned back! After viewing the picture, my son decided that he liked the way he looked smiling – so he did it more for the camera.
In conferences with this man, I learned that my son is not an easy student. His young age in comparison to his classmates was not the only difficulty. He was bright – but quiet. Sometimes he was quietly oppositional. Getting behind that quiet mask to really get to know him and what he could do was this man’s mission. Slowly over the course of the year, the mission was accomplished. It took a lot of firm expectations, pats on the back, and more than a few playground games and lunchtime chats. But my son entered first grade in another school with a firm background academically and socially.
The experience of having a male teacher in an early childhood classroom can make it ok for boys to be boys, even while in school. But while boys will be boys, a male early childhood teacher can also show them that responsible conduct, academic excellence, strength in athletics, sportsmanship, leadership, are qualities of good men.