136. A Male Teacher

When people meet me, and find out that I work with young children, they are usually impressed. “Good,” they say. “Young children need the influence of a man.” I’m always a little annoyed by that reaction; I’ve worked hard to become good at teaching young children – I’m still working hard at it – but the reaction people often give refers to a trait over which I had no control. I was born male, and though I think it’s a fine gender (one of the two best, I think), I take no credit for it. It’s something that just happened.
The reaction can mean different things, depending on the source. Some people may mean the opposite of what they say: “Isn’t it a little weird for a man to be teaching young children? What’s wrong with you?” Once, in a job interview, a prospective employer seemed to be uninterested in my experience, philosophy, or education. He asked me whether I was interested in football. I had told him I prefer second grade, and he was obviously trying to find out whether I was a “real man.” I’m not interested in football, and I didn’t get the job.
Some people who applaud maleness seem to be implying that men will somehow do a better job with children than women will. I strongly disagree; there are many variables involved in good teaching, but gender is irrelevant. It’s important to listen to children, to know what language can do, to understand the various aspects of the curriculum…it’s impossible to ennumerate the qualities good teachers need. But a Y chromosome is not one of them. Teachers of young children in this country tend to be women, and I do believe that that tendency indicates a problem, just as the maleness of presidents indicates a problem. There ought to be a balance, and there isn’t one. There’s nothing about the task of helping children deal with life on earth that makes women automatically better candidates. If that’s what people mean when they tell me it’s good to see a man teaching young children, I guess I’ll have to agree.
But the teacher’s gender has nothing to do with the quality of the teacher. If you think it’s good to see a man working with young children, ask yourself whether it’s good to see a woman working with young children. It really is just as good. It’s more common, true, but it’s just as good.

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