15 March 2005

(Wo)Men's Work

When I was in grade 5, there was a student teacher doing his practicum for part of the year. Yes, I said "his." Until that time, I have no memories of a male influence within the school setting, other than the principal, of course. In fact, things didn't change all that much in junior high and in high school.

Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the number of males in America's classrooms is at an all-time low: a meager 21%. They cite three major reasons for the decline over the years: fear of sexual harassment lawsuits, low job status, and the view of teaching as "women's work."

I can understand the first reason. News stories are all too common these days about alleged improper teacher-student relations. (Although it does seem more typical at the moment for the media to report on a virago, rather than a lecher.) All it takes is a whiff of this sort of thing and your career could be finished. We work in a profession where if you say you "love children," someone will take it too literally and you'll end up in jail and have a pimp named "Buddha."

I consider myself to be a decent person. I would never consider pursuing anything other than a teacher-student relationship with a young man. This is not to say that there aren't some nice-looking boys that pass through our halls, but I'm just not interested. (I'm certain they aren't, either.) However, it never really crosses my mind that one of them might accuse me of something. How interesting that it does for many men...enough to keep them from teaching.

Low job status? Check. But that is of equal issue for both sexes. This time, I have to wonder what the women are thinking. If we know it's "low status," then why do we go into the profession while some men avoid it for the same reason? Is it a biological thing? Men with low status don't attract mates...women are looking for more security than a mere teacher could provide? Is it a competition sort of issue---men checking their status against other men?

And the last: teaching is perceived as "women's work." Please don't expect me to go off on a feminista rant here, because I'm just not going to. There are enduring stereotypes for both sexes in our culture. Teaching happens to be one of them. I don't think rehashing all of that will do anything about addressing the real issue: how do we get (and keep) more men in the classroom?

It's kinda funny. The article doesn't really mention what to do about that.

1 comment:

Rob said...

I think the problem (be it real or simply perceived) is that everyone is pretty quick to believe it when a female student claims a male teacher has done something improper.

It's not just teaching, either. The office I work in has a beautiful, 20-year-old intern. I keep my relationship with her very strictly business. I never chat with her, loiter for a comment as I pass her desk, go to lunch with her or anything else but business. I don't think this poor girl would ever wrongly claim anything, but it's just too easy to avoid the possibilty.

I had a woman boss for several years and she told me practically the same thing at the time: keep it strictly business and nothing can go wrong. This was back in the early 1980's, when women bossing men was still a bit of a big deal and she had the same problem in reverse: plenty of people would have been happy to believe she did something wrong and she wasn't ever going to put herself in a position with even the slightest risk. (Oh, and she was a fantastic boss, by the way, just not someone who would be out with the gang having a drink after work).

If I were going to be a teacher these days, I wouldn't ever be alone with a student under any circumstances.