Manly, yes?

Sometimes I wonder about things – things we take for granted and perhaps just accept.  Sometimes I dig deeper into those things – this is one of those times.  A while back, I encountered two articles in the local paper that made me wonder – today’s blog is the preliminary result of my digging.

The first article was a feature piece about how post-secondary education, and particularly more “male-dominated” fields such as engineering and medicine, is an area of huge growth for female students.  The article went on to say how wonderful this was/is (I agree!) and that the gender gap is not only reduced but, in some cases (medicine) reversed.  The author went on about how important it is to have women in these fields and listed the many benefits (I tried to find the article but it does not seem to be in cyberspace…).

The very next week, in a “back to school” feature, that elusive creature – the male elementary teacher – was profiled.  One teacher was interviewed about being a male in a female dominated field. He shared his perspective and why he was in that profession.  Then, a number of “experts” (if I could use more quotes, I would…) were consulted.  To a person, each expert said that the gender gap in elementary education was not worrisome at all – a good teacher is just a good teacher! No cause for alarm here, go about your business.

Hmmm…  This is where my wondering began. Why in some fields (medicine) is it important to have gender equity and in others (elementary education) it does not matter?   As a place to start my excavation, I thought I would check the stats for Canada.

Year                                                              1998                                                            2008

Male Education Grads                               26%                                                              24%

Male Physical and Life                               47%                                                              43%            Science Technology Grads

Male Full Time Teachers                            33%                                                              29%

By the way, the ratio in overall degree programs is now (2008) 60-40 in favour of women.  As interesting and telling (alarming!) as the stats on males in education are, it gets worse.  I could not find any stats breaking out those who teach elementary (K-6).  So, I went to my own Department and asked for the male/female percentages for students currently enrolled in our undergraduate BEd (Elementary) program.

                                                                 Program                                                    My last 3 classes

Male                                                        9%                                                                6%

The numbers above very closely mirror the numbers for female physicians (7.6%)                       IN 1970!!!!!!!!!

So why the difference?  How come our society worked very hard; successfully and rightly, to get more women into male dominated fields but never the other way around?  I don’t know, but I DO think it is time to do something about it.  So, rather than whine and complain (been there done that), I thought I would highlight a successful male elementary teacher who was one of the 6-9% in our BEd program. Since I don’t think a huge government program to boost male presence in elementary is on the horizon anytime soon, I will lift Andrew up as a role model for other males to consider elementary education as a rewarding and viable career.  The following is a piece I asked Andrew to write about his experience as a male elementary teacher.

TwinsBefore I started at U of A in elementary education I finished a diploma in Police Studies at Grant MacEwan.  Going into policing I knew that I would need a lot of volunteer experience, and seeing as I always loved kids I volunteered as a Big Brother for a year.   I fell in love with the impact that I had on that child, it was such a rewarding experience.  After I finished at Grant MacEwan I sat down and thought to myself about the positives and negatives of policing and decided to pursue a different path.  As any teacher will tell you, the feeling of making a positive impact on a child’s life is simply incredible.  The thought of being able to do that on a daily basis and getting paid for it just seemed to click.    

 When I first graduated from University, the thought of getting a full time job as a teacher was terrifying.  Not because of the job itself, but because there was such an oversaturation of teachers looking for the same thing.  I had a couple friends of mine say that jobs that were posted at their schools were receiving anywhere from 250-400 applicants, for one position!  This is where I found my first huge break being a male in elementary education.  I was given many interviews simply because I was male, something that is lacking in almost all elementary schools.  I was lucky enough to be offered a full time continuing position after my first year. 

I can’t rave enough about being a male in elementary.  Without trying to sound arrogant the kid’s just love me because I am a guy, and they have never had that experience before (I am the only male elementary teacher in my school).  For me, through my first couple years, I think the biggest thing that I have been told from parents, other teachers, and students is that I am seen as a role model to the boys.  It is hard for young boys with “problems” to come to a female teacher so them having me as that outlet has been really beneficial for them.  When you look at the stats, what I just said makes sense, most families with single parent households consist of the mom, and the children.  This shows that they are obviously lacking that male presence in the children’s life.  Being able to provide that influence at school, where they spend most of their time, is very rewarding.  What I notice is that for the boys especially, who want to be outside playing and goofing around all the time having a male be in charge and showing them that it can be fun at school changes their perspective on things that they once didn’t like. 

I had a student in my first year who had always said he hated school; he was acting out and generally just didn’t put forth an effort to allow himself to be successful.  Right away I was able to form that bond with him on things that he enjoyed such as hockey, hunting, cars, traditionally male dominated topics.   I then made tests that involved sports or related new concepts to cars in any way that I could to draw in his attention and engage him in what we were learning.  By the end of the year he was crying because he didn’t want to leave.  That is and probably will be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.   

One challenge that I have had, yet has also turned out to be a lot of fun is being a new male teacher there is a certain expectation that I will be coaching different teams in the school.  The school that I teach at is a K-9 school and not only am I doing junior high basketball and volleyball but also help with cross country and journal games which is more elementary focused.   It is such a great experience, even though it consists of lots of extra time.  It is a way to see the kids outside of the school in a different setting and also for them to see that I don’t in fact sleep at the school.   

Another challenge that I have faced is that I am given the students who seem to have the worst behaviour.  It makes my day-to-day teaching a lot more…interesting? Especially as a new teacher with a new curriculum to learn, and trying to find new exciting ways to deliver that curriculum, it adds up to a lot of long nights.  A lot of my energy from the day is put into a few specific students because they need the male role model in their lives.    

I want to leave you with one of the best parts about being, not so much a male in elementary, but just an elementary teacher in general.  Kids say absolutely everything that is on their mind, no filter.  They are so excited about being able to answer a question they don’t care what comes out of their mouths.  For example, when I asked my grade three class the very question of why they like to have a male as a teacher here are three of the top responses:

“just because there needs to be a man in the house”

“you are stronger in case someone attacks the school”, and my favourite,

“you are more sarcastic”.

 I wouldn’t trade my job for any other.

Thanks man.

We need more Andrews.

I Am Confident

I Am Confident.

No, I am not auditioning for a deodorant commercial.  I am not even trying to talk myself into doing something I don’t really feel like doing (say… a SSHRC grant application).

I Am Confident in the future of physical education in Canada.

There, I said it.  I will not deny that I have had my doubts about the future of PE (who am I kidding, I have doubts about the present…).  Sometimes it seems like we are banging our heads against the same old walls.  Don’t tell me we just need more proof of the efficacy of movement and PE – we know this stuff – let’s get ‘er done already!  I’ve said before that sometimes PE folks are the biggest part of the problem.  Yet…

I Am Confident in the future of physical education in Canada.

1239799_788145540908_367711197_nMy confident confidenceness springs from having recently participated in the 10th Annual PHE Canada Student Leadership Conference (SLC).  67 post-secondary student leaders and 14 mentors from across Canada loosely connected by the broad field of physical education coming together to explore leadership.   Check out the overview video here.

Two words: Wow!

Peter Gray, developmental psychologist and author of Free to Learn, describes three characteristics necessary for self-directed education / learning: curiosity (the drive to explore and understand), playfulness (the drive to practice and create) and sociability (the drive to share information and ideas).  For a little taste of Peter’s work check out The Play Deficit.  Anywho… The students (and mentors!) that I interacted with over the course of the SLC demonstrated these characteristics each and every day – in numerous ways!  Here are a few things I noticed over the week:

curiosity: no hesitation – a desire to explore personal leadership characteristics – genuine quests for understanding – a seeker attitude – focused inquisitiveness around what could be learned – openness to what mentors had to say – openness to what other students had to say – probing problems and not giving up – constant snooping around mentors and other students to see what could be heard, observed, learned and applied.

playfulness: every task approached with zeal and enthusiasm – every task faced with a desire to learn and succeed – undaunted in the face of (much) failure – a student driven campfire night that never quit – as many solutions to problems as there were groups – spontaneous games and dancing (and late night lake swimming!) – original creations – practice, practice, practice and, more practice.

sociability: constant, purposeful conversation – constant, purposeful listening – sharing of hugs, sweaters and ideas – stepping up and stepping back – debate – diversity – respect – integrity – genuine appreciation for the gifts and talents of others – and self – willingness to put an idea out there – willingness to remove it in favour of a better one – humility – questions, thoughtfulness and more questions.

Therefore, I Am Confident.

Confident that these leaders will NEVER stop learning.

Confident that these leaders saw the end of the conference as a beginning.

Confident that these leaders will surpass their mentors and then some.

Confident that the future of PE is in good, no, GREAT hands.

Confident that these leaders are curious enough, playful enough and sociable enough

to change the world.1379413_788148125728_113044222_nThank you.