I walked with my class across campus recently when some passing kid I’ve never met said, “Hi Mr. Love.”
One of my own students asked, “Why does everybody know you?”
My theory: I am the only male teacher left at my school.
Of about 25 teachers at Rail Ranch Elementary in Murrieta, I’m the lone representative of my gender. In the 19 years I’ve been there, we always had multiple male teachers. Greg Lumsden, Matt Owens, Jack Mitchell, Tom Patane, Brian Youens, Kevin Nickoloff, Steve Savage, Gary Zajec and Neal Hall all taught there. Lumsden, a fellow fifth-grade teacher, left last year, leaving me the last man standing.
Invariably when I walk outside now, some kid or kids I don’t know will say hi to me by name, dramatically more than before. Often I’ll stop to ask their name and say hi back, figuring it’s the least I can do.
There are ramifications to this. If male role models are so important in this age, there’s not much to choose from at my school. Also, it can lead to stereotyping, as my classroom is now hands-down the messiest on campus (not even close). And lastly, who do I have a bro-mance with?
I did some Googling of male elementary teachers and found we’re at less than 20 percent nationally. Educators regret this because their mantra is that kids need to be exposed to as many differences as possible in our ever-changing world. Diversity is important. And being around only teachers of one gender in their early years of schooling is not ideal.
There are reasons for this shortage, but let’s jump to one that is of central concern in today’s world: How careful males have to be around elementary students. While my female colleagues are happy to hug children who want one, I prefer to high-five or, if forced, a side-hug.
Of course I miss the guys. We hung out in staff meetings together, we played pickup basketball together on campus for a brief time until we stopped kidding ourselves and realized we were too old, we had way too competitive PE games and reading games in which we strategized with our kids and exhorted them to win, and we played too many fantasy sports together.
Now my male bonding is confined to cyberspace. Our fantasy league is named elementary. When Lumsden, Mitchell, Patane, Owens and I were all on campus, our classes would rag each other depending on who won. The kids loved it and I think of what they’re missing not being exposed to fun — not toxic — competition at a young age.
There is one advantage: My female colleagues tend to feel sorry for me and even look out for me. After spring break ended this month, I opened my classroom door and saw the place completely redecorated, looking, dare I say, beautiful. Fittingly, one student said it no longer felt like a cave.
After some detective work, I determined my longtime friend and colleague, Stephanie Ricci, did it.
Talk about sweet. Talk about needed. Talk about something a man wouldn’t do.
Contact Carl Love at firstname.lastname@example.org