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Love Kids? Then Teaching Is Not for You

Unlike male instructors, women tend to oversimplify their vocation.

April 17, 2005|Regina Powers | Regina Powers, a former elementary school teacher, is a writer and children's librarian.

Sometime this month President Bush will announce the National Teacher of the Year. The annual honor is bestowed upon a single instructor who has been selected from the top teachers in each state. This year, California's Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell selected a man to represent the state in the competition.

Last November, out of about 300,000 public school teachers (76% of whom are women), O'Connell honored five instructors with the California Teacher of the Year Award. Four of these five winners were men.

And even though nearly 98% of preschool and elementary teachers are women, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that female elementary school teachers earned 15% less than male elementary teachers in 2000.

Why the discrepancy? It could be that female teachers don't get the recognition they deserve because their superintendents are more likely to be men. Forty-two of California's 58 county superintendents, for example, are men.

Or perhaps female teachers don't get respect because the majority of their immediate supervisors (i.e. the principals at the schools where they work) are men. These supervisors may feel more comfortable questioning a female teacher's methods rather than those of a male. Now, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to set up a merit pay system for California teachers. Should female teachers in California feel threatened by the prospect? Yes, they should, but not solely because of the state's apparent gender bias.

That would be too simplistic. Physically, women don't need testicles to be taken more seriously as teachers. But metaphorically, they do.

Part of the problem is that female teachers have an image as being somewhat touchy-feely, even unprofessional. For instance, haven't you heard female teachers use the expression "I love children" -- during interviews, at back-to-school nights, in casual conversation? I've heard it all through my career. With that single, cliched phrase, they oversimplify their vocation and allow themselves to be perceived as mere caretakers of schoolchildren, not professionals. After all, what teacher would dedicate her life to teaching if she hated kids?

Seasoned instructors know that "loving" a classroom -- full of unruly, often disrespectful, students -- is not enough and won't get the job done. In fact, candidates for credential programs or teaching jobs who claim their reason for teaching is because they "love kids" should immediately be eliminated from the running.

It's time to put an end this mushy-headed, sensitive-female stuff. The job of a teacher is to present the curriculum using methods that have been found to be the most effective. Teachers also must be able to identify and articulate their enthusiasm for reasoning, learning, thinking and reading. They must possess a passion for the material they present to their students. They must adapt lessons to fit each student's needs, language skills and cognitive development.

They should, as many already do, lie awake at night redesigning lesson plans or figuring out the best way to reach the seemingly unteachable child. They should spend "summers off" reading new research, analyzing perpetually changing textbooks and attending conferences. Teachers don't have to be men to get the respect they deserve. But they need to admit the truth to themselves, to their employers, to their peers and to the parents who trust them. The truth is that "loving kids" has very little to do with teaching. Ultimately, students come to school to learn -- not to be loved.

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