By Bryan Passifiume - QMI Agency

While being a male elementary school teacher in today’s world isn’t exactly blazing any new trails, they’re still a rare commodity in what is still a predominantly female-dominated occupation.

Chris Vasquez, however, isn’t all that interested in being seen as either a token or a novelty. When he steps into his noisy, raucous Grade One classroom at Whitecourt’s Pat Hardy Primary School, his students only know him as one thing: “Mr. Vasquez”

His classroom at Pat Hardy is the 27-year-old’s first full-time teaching job. A recent University of Alberta graduate, Vasquez credits his grandmother, who herself is a schoolteacher, with encouraging him to make education his career.

“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do in University,” he said. “I tried it out and fell in love with it!”

Vasquez arrived in Whitecourt in January, eager to get into the classroom but unsure of what to expect. He said that while teacher’s college does a pretty thorough job of preparing prospective teachers, there’s nothing that can prepare someone for that equally terrifying and exhilarating first day in the classroom.

Everybody, he says, experiences something different.

“For me, that first day it was fear,” he laughed. “Nobody wants to mess up at their job, especially in one where you’re handling a whole lot of little people!”

The fear, he said, was relatively short lived.

“You get a feeling of excitement when you have an opportunity to really affect these kids, It’s exciting!” he recalled enthusiastically. “You’re teaching them how to be citizens, you’re teaching them how to be students.”

“You’re teaching them how to be people, essentially,” he added.

Vasquez said he gets a lot of out his class of first graders. He describes his first few months at Pat Hardy as “fantastic.”

“The kids are great, they really make it easy for me,” he said. “The staff is super supportive, and everybody really seems friendly.”

He credits his fellow staff at Pat Hardy with helping him adjust to his new life as a teacher. He said that they are encouraging and have helped him adjust to being in the classroom.

“They support me in many ways,” he said.

Vasquez is cautious when asked about how he feels being a male elementary school teacher. While he knows that he’s among few peers in his profession, he doesn’t want to be seen as anything but a good teacher.

“It’s always in the back of my mind, because there are so few of us,” he said. “Every guy coming out of the elementary stream has to prove themselves every day. That’s just the way it is.”

Vasquez’s biggest challenge in the classroom is keeping his teaching style relevant to the needs of today’s students.

“Technology has really changed how kids perceive things, and how they receive information” he said. “It’s so much easier for kids to Google an answer instead of cracking open a dictionary and look it up.”

Teaching kids HOW to learn is the key, he said — ather than just showing them where to get easy answers.

“Those are the kind of skills that have been lost,” he added, “There’s something missing.”

“More kids know how to spell Xbox or Wii as opposed to words like ‘tomato’,” he laughed. “Some kids can write ‘Mario,’ but not their own name!”

He said he would rather see one of his students try to spell a word and get it wrong, rather than just relying on spell check. He suggests that the lesson isn’t in knowing the answer, but knowing how to arrive at a correct conclusion.

“Everybody needs to try,” Vasquez explained. “If yuo spell a word and get it wrong, it really doesn’t matter as long as you try.”