Friday, February 25, 2011

Real Supermen are Men Who Teach

Male Elementary Teachers at Ashley Elementary in Denver

Living in rural Idaho often entails a long wait. I waited many months for Waiting for Superman to land in Redbox, and when it did finally fly in, I used my free movie coupon to rent a copy, which I watched with my husband whose keen insight into human nature prompted this question:

 "Where are all the men? There aren't any men in any of these kids' lives. You only see the moms." 

The real men in the lives of children are in the classroom, standing in front of students, modeling appropriate adult-male behavior, and serving as surrogate parents for the phantom fathers so often absent in the lives of children. 

Teaching has long been known as a female profession. More than 75 percent of teachers are women, and the public still, in many cases, views teaching as a supplemental career. Recently, I spoke with a military recruiter who told me he'd like to become a teacher after retiring from his military career. Since he'll receive a full military pension, he plans to use teaching "to supplement my income." 

In 2008 the number of male teachers reached an all-time low. A number that has been in decline since 1981, reports the website Men Teach. Additionally, retiring male teachers usually get replaced by women.

Recognizing the importance of male role models in the lives of students who increasingly lack them, the principal at Ashley Elementary School in Denver has purposely sought male teachers, who now outnumber their female counterparts. 

I'm fortunate to have many outstanding male colleagues, including two in my department, and I admit that my favorite college professors have been men. 

So when I think about the firing of teachers in Providence, Rhode Island, the salary reductions many teachers have faced and will continue to face, the political climate in Wisconsin, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, and here in Idaho, where our legislative senate has already passed two pieces of legislation gutting collective bargaining and approving so-called "pay for performance," I wander how man more super men will leave our classrooms and choose more lucrative and prestigious professions. 

If the political power brokers controlling education really want Superman in the classrooms of America, promoting a climate of disrespect, deskilling, and demotion of the teaching profession won't encourage the Man of Steel to teach in a profession that, arguably, often symbolize kryptonite, the radioactive substance to which our hero is most vulnerable.

Update: 2-26-2011
For additional analysis and reaction to the Providence, RI firings, including teacher reactions, commentary on the budget crisis that provoked the firings, and anti-union rhetoric regarding teacher evaluations and the firing process, check out this Newsy report, that synthesizes multiple perspectives in a report. A transcript of the video is also available.