There’s been a lot of talk this week about whether or not Canadian school boards should be implementing a policy to hire more male teachers for elementary schools. I’ve heard all kinds of arguments that having male teachers in the early grades can be great for engaging boys and providing them strong with male role models. I can’t speak to this from my own experience as my own son is still a preschooler and my Grade Two daughter is a typical girl learner and a huge school keener, so she does just fine no matter who is at the front of the classroom. But I can tell you what I personally learned from my daughter’s Grade One teacher, who happened to be a man.
Grade One is a big deal for most parents, especially when you’re dealing with your first child. I was anxious to see who my daughter’s first grade teacher was going to be and was thrilled when she was placed with a gentle, 40-something, female teacher. I’m ashamed to say that I was less thrilled when that teacher had to go on personal leave in late September and was replaced by a male substitute for the remainder of the year.
When I first met Mr. C, who would be my daughter’s Grade One teacher, I have to admit that I was worried. He’s not only a man, but a big man — at about six and a half feet tall he towered over his class of five and six year olds. Like most male teachers, he was used to teaching higher grades and he seemed unsure around little children who could not yet read or write. Honestly, in the beginning I think he felt out of place in that classroom himself.
But then something started to happen. When I volunteered in the classroom, I saw a more relaxed version of Mr. C. Once he got a handle for the kids’ academic level he started to enjoy himself. He sang and danced with them. He laughed with them. He was disciplined — perhaps more so than the gentle female teacher — but some of them needed that. By the end of the year, I found myself writing a letter to the principal, begging for the school to hire him on full time because I couldn’t imagine anyone else teaching my son once it was his turn to start Grade One.
By nothing short of a miracle, Mr. C was able to find a placement in our school, albeit in a higher grade. While I know he loves his current class, he often tells me how much he misses his Grade Ones. And while I’m sad that my son probably won’t have Mr. C as his Grade One teacher, my daughter is thrilled that she’ll have another year with him down the road.
I don’t know if male teachers are better for boys or not. But I do know that if we hold onto the stereotype that male teachers aren’t suited for teaching the earliest grades (or even preschool or kindergarten) we risk missing out on seeing some amazing teachers do their very best work.