I’ve recently started doing some voluntary work at my old primary school, which I’m absolutely loving! It’s been great to observe the teachers and their various teaching styles carefully crafted for different age groups, but being able to get involved myself rather than just sitting on the sidelines is what’s making it such a valuable experience.
What’s struck me most is how amazing the children are and how much potential each one of them has. They’ve said some really funny things to me while I’ve been there, like:
– ‘You’ve nearly got the same first name as James Bond! They both start with a J…’
– ‘Mr Birchenough, you’re a really nice bloke!’
– ‘Wow you’re 18 years old? That’s nearly old enough to go to heaven!’
– ‘You’re tall! But not as tall as a giant.’
– ‘You’re the funniest supply teacher we’ve had! Normally they’re old and boring…’
My personal favourite is from a little girl in Year 1, who also drew me the picture above. Within half a day of being in her class, she said to me ‘You’re the best man ever!’, which is apparently what the writing underneath her drawing says, and the next day she came out with something equally sweet: ‘you’re my school-Dad!’ Awww!
While this is evidently super-cute, it indicates how unusual it is to find a male presence in the classroom. Some other children were even a bit confused by me being there: one little girl asked me if I was a boy or a girl, and someone else persistently called me ‘Miss’, however many times I tried to tell them I’m a Mr! I think it’s a real shame how there aren’t many male primary school teachers around, not at all because I think guys do a better job, but because children, both boys and girls, need positive role models that they can relate to, and a balance of male and female teachers, alongside good parenting, is surely the best way to achieve this.
I guess one reason primary school teaching doesn’t attract many guys is that society doesn’t present it as a manly job. But actually it is, or at least it can be. Children, particularly boys, need good male role models to counteract the skewed view of manhood society offers them, and too often in our age of broken families and absent fathers they can only be found by consulting Google or asking Jeeves, which is inevitably insufficient. Having someone to look up to that they know personally and can identify with, like a good teacher, presents them with a pattern they should follow, stopping them drifting around aimlessly searching for guidance in all sorts of places. It addresses wrong attitudes before they have the chance to develop into serious issues, and getting it right early on sets them up for the rest of their lives. A positive male role model is also essential to give children the approval they crave but are often denied, meaning they don’t have to resort to disruptive, attention-seeking behaviour to get it. This is obviously something females can give too, but for a young boy it can be sooo much more powerful when it’s spoken to him by a man.
Despite primary school teaching attracting more females, then, men are not only capable of teaching young children, but their input is an essential component of their education, providing strong leadership as well as the caring personality that is a prerequisite for this younger age group. It certainly can be a manly job: among other things, effective primary school teaching requires strength, resilience and patience, as well as the ability to command authority in a loving way – all of which are qualities men should possess. As a teacher, your character speaks volumes, providing the children you’re teaching with an example they can follow to help them develop into the young adults they’re meant to become. And this doesn’t just mean the cute ones, it includes those who can be a little bit annoying too: quite often they’re the ones who need good role models the most.