False accusations hurt male teachers


I am actually on the verge of becoming a teacher, having completed my M. Ed. program and reached the student teaching stage. My certification is pre-K -- 6 and my goal is to teach upper elementary (3 - 5). I have worked off an on as a substitute teacher for several years, in between other full time jobs, and determined that I relate best (and am most effective) with 8- 9-10 year old kids. I am 50 years old and am transitioning from a long career in the non-profit sector.

My first student teaching assignment was with kindergarten. I expressed some angst about the prospect of working with such young kids to a lot of people, including my university's placement office. One of my primary concerns was that younger students tend to be very "touchy" and I am, of course, very sensitive to those issues. I also expressed some trepidation with the cooperating teacher in our initial meeting and she assured me that I would find the kids refreshing and wonderful.

And she was so right. I spent the first two weeks of student teaching just reveling in the energy and enthusiasm these little kids possessed. I could make them laugh and I could help them learn, and I became very comfortable being around them. Mid-way through my second week, the principal told me she had received an email from a parent who had seen me with the students in the cafeteria and thought I looked like "a natural."

One day, I accompanied the kids to their art class and stayed on to observe them. While we were there, the school had a fire drill and the art teacher quickly went to the door and started lining the kids up. I noted that one of the boys in the middle of the line was 180 degrees off task -- his back was to the door and he was fooling around with the student behind him. I walked over and yanked his shirt collar to get his attention and get him turned around. And that was my fatal mistake.

The art teacher subsequently reported to the principal that "she thought she might have seen me hit the student" (the principal's exact phrasing). I assured the principal that I had not hit the student but grabbed his collar to get his attention. The art teacher was not even able to identify the student in question, just saying it was a boy wearing a blue shirt.

After many phone calls among the principal, my university, the district's central office and child protective services, it was decided that there would be no investigation, no charges, no long-term repercussions as far as hiring, etc. but that I would not return to that school and classroom because of the "cloud" which would hang over me. The cooperating teacher was upset, the principal was apologetic and I was devastated. At this moment, I am awaiting word on when I will start my second placement (in the same district, thankfully) with a fifth grade teacher that I know very well.

Bottom line: I made a huge mistake having any physical contact with the student. I expressed my profound regret to every party involved and have been assured at every level that this incident has not tarnished my otherwise impeccable reputation. There is only one person who believes I "might" have struck the student, but she has a contract and I don't.

I will say that I learned a VERY painful lesson that I hope will stay with me through the rest of my teaching career. Just the "suggestion" that a male teacher had physical contact with a student in a violent manner is sufficient to engage the full machinery of educators and social workers, regardless of the circumstances or the facts. It is a scary situation which, perhaps, I will someday look back on and be grateful for experiencing. At the moment, I am just glad to have it behind me and to finish my student teaching and move on with my career.

A Good Result

I was glad to see that my original posting was still on the website. I'm pleased to report that this experience did not deter me in my goal of becoming a teacher. After completing student teaching and receiving my degree I taught third grade for a year in Fairfax County, VA (where I lived) and then decided to take a leap toward my ultimate goal to "teach at the beach" and relocated to coastal NC. After two long and frustrating years of trying to get my foot in the door of an elementary school classroom, I received and accepted a job offer from a more-inland county and have just signed on for another year of teaching second grade at a very rural, very poor, and incredibly wonderful primary school.

My message to anyone, particularly older men trying to break into the teaching field, is don't give up even in the face of difficulties. I have just wrapped up the most rewarding professional year of my life and look forward to returning to the classroom in August with a new batch of 7-8 year old kids to teach, mentor, nurture, and love. For me, working with kids is truly a labor of love and has proven to be worth every dime and drop of sweat it took to get me where I am today. Best of luck to all the guys following my path; just know that your difficulties and challenges can be overcome and you'll find lots of students eager to be in your classroom learning from you!

Bill Rudin
Elementary Teacher