Friday, February 19, 2010

The Male (Dis)Advantage

Like it or not, we all crave male attention- I’ve watched enough Law and Order and read enough of the psychology text I was given in the school of ed to know that- just as we all crave female attention, albeit for different reasons. Being a male in the urban setting will both help and hurt you. I'm sure being a female is the same, but for different reasons and ones with which I'm not as familiar given the circumstances. The bottom line, however, is that being a male teacher can either be one of your greatest downfalls or it can help you considerably with some students.

If the students in this setting sense you are weak they want nothing to do with you. This is where being a scrawny white guy can really hurt you. If you do not assert your dominance in a positive, unwavering and respectful way, if you cave to student demands and let them get the best of you; they may see you as weak and will not give you the time of day.

Last year it took until the very end of the year to gain the respect of most my students and even then I didn’t get it from a good number of them. For many of the young men I worked with they either saw me as a push-over or as someone who wasn’t strong enough to look up to. I don’t think any of them looked up to me as their major male role model, as they saw day in and day out that I could be stomped and kicked around by a pretty small group of eighth-graders. If I were them I probably wouldn’t have thought, “Jeepers, I’d like to be like that guy!” Oh my, no. I probably would have said, “Sucks for that dude,” or if I could muster some level of empathy, “That guy gets stomped by these d-bags just like me, only worse. That’s too bad.”

In short, if the students run the show, your maleness will work against you multiplicatively. There will also always be students who have a problem with all males. In many cases this goes back to the fact that the fathers of many of our students are not present in their lives or the ones who are abuse them. The authority figure at home may be a mother or grandmother, so when a male tries to assert his authority they resist and resist. These are factors outside of the school building that cannot be controlled from within it.

On the flip side of the coin, being a male can also be a very powerful thing. It seems that with boys especially, many are looking for positive male attention instead of the negative or abusive attention they receive at home. Many others are simply trying to fill a void. In many respects male teachers can take on a father-figure role in a setting like this, which brings along with it additional responsibilities. It seems worth it though and the feeling it brings is one that motivates many to come into this field. The role of surrogate parent, while limited, is a considerable one.

If you are a strong male who shows students he knows what’s up you can set yourself up to be the strong male presence many of our students cannot find anywhere else. I cannot speak to the fact as to whether I should be considered a strong male presence, but I can say that my skin is thicker than last year. My first year was a rough one- full of anger, discouragement, and even self-pity. That came out while in the trenches and the students readily picked up on it. I was not a strong male to be looked up to, but instead a fledgling teacher trying to get his footing. From what I can tell, things are improving on that front. Hopefully they continue to and I'll be able to positively impact my boys.

Today's Wine: Villa Pillo Cingalino Rosso di Toscana 2007. This was labeled as a "super Tuscan" at the wine shop. It hales from Tuscany and also bears the label "IGT" for Indicazione Geografica Tipica- some measure of quality assurance slightly below the D.O.C. that people look for in Italian wines. I didn't pick it for anything that logical. There is a wild boar wearing a suit and holding grapes on the front. That paired with the idea of a "super Tuscan" got me thinking of some kind of wine-making pig super hero and I therefore had to purchase this specific bottle. It went well with the prosciutto and pea quiche we ate.


  1. Great post, very insightful and I enjoyed reading it. :)

  2. I don't think it has as much to do with sex as it does control. I've seen women who were in just as much trouble as men. It's all about asserting yourself, and it really takes time to learn tricks to help you do that. I like every kid to know that anything they do in class will most certainly follow them home. The more confident they are that any classroom consequences will invade their home lives, the less likely it is they'll mess with you.