“You teach what?” That is the phrase I often heard when I would tell my fellow coaches what I taught. Being a high school basketball coach and first grade teacher was not something they were expecting to hear. They expected me to tell them that I taught physical education or social studies, not that I taught six-year olds how to read. The reaction that followed was often mixed. Some of the coaches would give me the “that is pretty neat, I respect that” look, while others would give me the “are you kidding me, that is weird” look. I had learned long ago when I decided to go into teaching at the elementary level that the reactions would be mixed, from everyone including my peers, to parents, and even to the students.
As a college student several years ago, I had the opportunity to observe in a 1st grade classroom. Prior to this experience I had decided that I wanted to get into teaching and coaching. I knew I wanted to coach at the high school level, but I had not decided exactly what level I wanted to teach at. I was assigned to observe in the first grade classroom as one of my first practicum’s. I immediately fell in love with the grade level. I looked forward to the opportunity to visit the classroom each week and work with the eager young students. I am sure it had something to do with the manner in which I was treated almost like a celebrity every time I showed up. I have to admit hearing the students call out “Hi, Mr. Hedger” and “Mr. Tall Guy is here” kind of made a person feel very welcome. I am sure it was a distraction to the actual teacher having a 6’5″ guy enter a room full of 6 and 7 year olds only to be mauled with hugs to the knees and ankles. The more time I spent in the classroom, the more the kids got used to it and I got to actually find out what it was like to actually teach this age group. I went on to volunteer in first and second grade classrooms while I finished my degree. During my final semester of college I went to visit a 1st grade teacher whose class I had volunteered in. I was about to graduate and was applying to schools hoping to find a teaching job. The teacher asked what grade I would like to teach and I was surprised that she kind of laughed when I told her I wanted to teach in the primary grades. Even though I had volunteered in her classroom, she acted as though it would be very strange for me to actually be a teacher at this level.
I was fortunate that there were principals out there who welcomed the idea of having a man teach at the primary level. I accepted a job teaching second grade and taught at that level for four years, until I had the opportunity to move down to first grade. This was the grade level I had always desired to teach and I taught at this level for another four years, before deciding I could have an impact on even more students by taking on the role of elementary principal. As a principal, I feel it is a very positive thing to have men teaching at the elementary level. I think it is great that there seems to be more men seeking this level of teaching in recent years.
Hiring male teachers
I think there are several things to consider from the viewpoint of a school administrator, when hiring male teachers. I don’t feel a teacher should be hired just because they are a man. Believe, me I heard the “you can get a job anywhere you want, just because you are a man” comments when I was teaching. If a man is not right for the position, he should not be hired. I am also not saying that men are better teachers than women. This is obviously not the case; however I do feel there are many qualified men teachers who deserve opportunities to teach at the elementary level.
I think there is a misconception that men are better at classroom management than women teachers. I always found it humorous when I would have a parent of one of my first grade students or another teacher tell me that the students in my class were well behaved because I was tall and I was a man. They insisted the students behaved because I must intimidate them. I felt like telling them to tell that to the 5’1″ female teacher who had been teaching for 25 years and was so intimidating that I would even find myself trying to stand up straighter and not mess up when she would walk by!
I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with young people for over 14 years now. The opportunity to teach the young students and coach the high school students has allowed me the opportunity to see the wide range of student attitudes and behaviors. Not to mention, given me countless stories to tell!