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Kelvin L Reed

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Male Elementary Teachers: Needed But Not Wanted?
By Kelvin L Reed   

Last edited: Saturday, September 23, 2000
Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2000

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Partly due to tradition and partly due to outdated male attitudes, male elementary teachers are rare. This needs to change.

No one disputes the fact that effectively teaching the youngest of our children is crucial to laying a proper foundation for later years. Yet many children go through their early school years—day care, kindergarten, elementary—without substantial contact with a male. After nine years as an elementary teacher, eight with the Boston Public School Department, it has become clear to me that one problem with public schools in America is that so few men serve as elementary teachers. Now this is no slight to my female colleagues, many who do an admirable job, but a profession is enhanced when its workforce is diverse.

As a country, we’ve taken affirmative action (a positive expression in my mind) to diversify several formerly White, male-dominated professions (for example, law enforcement and medicine). Clearly, those professions serve the public better because they have a variety of voices that impact on how they will carry out their missions. The percentage of men teaching at the elementary level dangles at only about ten percent. Why should a subsection of the teaching profession miss out on the benefits of diversity?

Part of the problem is we men ourselves. Some of us do not consider teaching children how to write their names for the first time or how to count to one hundred as “real” teaching. We dismiss wiping tears from a sad face because a selfish classmate made off with a toy or because someone was not allowed to join a game of kickball as fluff stuff. Some of us, sad to say, don’t like being hugged, let alone giving a hug. We view such activities as women’s work, and that is our loss.

Another problem is that men are not always welcomed. Simply put, no one has extended an invitation. Public school human resource offices make no attempt to encourage men of any color to teach at the elementary level. Elementary principals, who often see women as less assertive and less challenging, prefer the status quo.

As an African-American male who has taught only at the elementary level, it is clear that my task-oriented, no nonsense, no excuses style does not sit well with some of my female colleagues, some mothers of my students and even some principals under whom I have served. Frequently, my female colleagues will know all the details of their students’ personal problems and allow them to slack off on schoolwork due to their “unfortunate circumstances.” In nine years I haven’t heard a story yet (short of illness or death) that has moved me to let a student off the hook for not bringing in his or her homework. Also, the walls, doors, windows, etc. of my classroom, while tastefully decorated, are not covered with fancy knick-knacks, as they are in the rooms of my female coworkers. And unlike some of my female colleagues, “no” from me definitely means no. One concern frequently voiced by critics of our public schools is the lack of discipline. No one would like to admit it, but one solution would be to put more men in our elementary schools.

Tragically, never has there been more of a need for Black males to step up to the plate and serve as positive role models for our children (forgive the sports metaphor, it’s a male thing). Female headed households with absent fathers are far from rare in African-American family life, especially for our inner city school children. It is not uncommon for a Black child to turn eleven without having interacted with a man for any significant amount of time.

Today, the biggest complaint facing our schools is that our students are not succeeding academically. A generation ago, the nurturance/self-esteem, feel-good model of education replaced the task-oriented, get down to work style, and the result has been a disaster for our children. Now school boards, politicians and professional educators have been demanding improved academic results. Hiring more men to teach elementary school is not the primary answer to that challenge, but it would help.

The belief that an elementary school is an extension of the home where tiny tots go to get love and warm fuzzies will not be sufficient to advance successfully into the next millennium. School systems will have to rethink this approach and actively recruit men as teachers of children whose ages run in the single digits. Our colleges and universities should actively encourage men—especially Black men—to pursue this worthwhile vocation. Perhaps our classrooms will not look as pretty as they have for the past twenty years, but it is a small price to pay for improved test scores and restored respect for our nation’s public schools.

Reader Reviews for "Male Elementary Teachers: Needed But Not Wanted?"

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Reviewed by amos 2/13/2003
seriously karen, i agree with the above statement. I hope you are not an English teacher. Try reading the article again, how can you possibly come to the conclusion from this one article that was not about job satisfaction but a need for more male elementary school teachers.
Reviewed by Matt Fridley 1/23/2003
I am a male first grade teacher. I would like to express my genuine love for working with my students. I have found that children respond well to a male at this level. However, I don't share the view that I am there to improve the level of discipline in the school. A child's behavior is directly reflected in the expectations of his or her teacher. It doesn't matter if the teacher is male or female. We must all set high expectations when it comes to discipline and more importantly, we must set high expectations in all areas related to acedemia.
Reviewed by t. roberts, FL 1/10/2003
many of you overlook that fact that if a woman teacher hugs then its maternal...a male (the big black kind) hugs then it is fondling of the accusation and then he will be sent to visit many of his friends in "Hotel Bricks and Bars" courtesy of his local law angency....get real people!
Reviewed by RuthCamille 1/7/2003
Glad to hear the male point of view. I'm sure there are plenty of female disciplinarians who would disagree with his premise that it takes a man to bring discipline into the classroom.
Reviewed by Glen 12/5/2002
As an 8th grade History teacher, I find that being a male in a middle school setting does have some positive effects on kids, both male and female. Being an African-American male, students seem to gravitate more towards someone that reminds them of their fathers, brothers, and uncles. The article has some strong points, however, its important that we not lose sight of the teaching strategies and the rapport that they build with their students. Stepping into the class as a male does not guarantee you anything in teaching. It's the expectations, respect you have for students, and the commitment towards their overall success that determines how effective an educator you truly are.
Reviewed by james 10/29/2002
Hopefully Karen is not a teacher, if so, hopefully not of the English profession.
Reviewed by David 10/20/2002
As a male teacher I have seen and heard many negative things about male teachers. Males are always having to prove something. It's difficult dor me to be "fuzzy and cute." Yet, my state test scores are very high and have been every year, I try to set a good example what a good teacher and a man should be. I enjoy this profession, but I may be leaving it soon to go to Law School.
Teachers are not respected, and if you are a man, then people think that you are a loser who couldn't make it in the real world, yet I have had other jobs that I was very successful in. In addition, it's very difficult in trying to support a family with the pay that teachers pay. One has to work for 30 yeqars to make some good money in teaching. As a lawyer I can make that in 2 years.
Reviewed by Carolyn 9/5/2002
I do not disagree with Dr. Reed's premise that an increase in male elementary school teachers would yield a positive effect for our schools. However, his presumption that men would bring back discipline and a "task oriented style" seems erroneous. This approach is no more indicative of a particular gender than is his much derided "warm fuzzie" one. I would suggest that Dr. Reed needs to support more effectively the benefits of his particular teaching style rather than present the rather riduculous argument that proposes more men equals more discipline which equals better schools. More men would most likely equal better schools. However, Dr. Reed attempts a cheap trick in trying to manipulate an argument that supports his own woefully underevolved sense of the art of teaching.
Reviewed by Marilyn Atherley (Reader) 8/18/2002
Very good article, well written. Good to have such a perspective expressed.
Reviewed by Espigadera Siempre 8/3/2002
Wow!!! Now, there may be some hope as I send this excellent message to others who are so clueless. Here in Cenral Florida, most of our elementary schools are all female-staffed or almost all female-staffed. Many impressionable boys, coming from single, female-parent homes, have never ever seen a man read anything until those boys enter our middleschools. Many female elementary teachers and female elementary administrators (won't admit it) deeply resent a man entering a " woman's workplace "!! GREAT ARTICLE>..Let's see more of these articles....our boys need many more positive man role models in their lives!!
Reviewed by Darryl Choates 7/12/2002
Reviewed by phillip 3/3/2002
boy is he right! I filed a complaint with EEOC
for discrimination in hiring. The EEOC did
and investigation and found that the Poway USD
did discriminate against me. Poway told EEOC
to drop dead and they did. Nothing became
of the finding.
Reviewed by IF 3/2/2002
Reviewed by IF 3/2/2002
Reviewed by karen 8/8/2001
It is understandable how Mr.Reed has managed to teach all this years!
it seems to me that he hasn't been enjoying his job. it looks like if he is most likely complaining about it.
Reviewed by john wayne (Reader) 4/10/2001
e re

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