Want healthier kids? We need teacher men(tors)

Our Kids Need Successful Mid-Career Men, Not Sports Stars or Superheros

Every time I find myself trudging my 9-year old twins to school, I cannot help but think I am crossing into a woman’s domain and world, the world of K-5 teaching. In our school, my daughter says that there is only one male teacher. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, almost 80 percent of school teachers are female.

Often, when we do have men, much like the field of social work, those men move quickly right up to leadership positions. Even in a world of woman, men still get much faster promotion, but I am writing to encourage those guys that have been working, like me, for ten or more years, to consider a change of career and a change of life.

This career change is not about promoting a person to the top. I am asking those men that have been to the “top” to mentor the next generation of boys and girls. Superheros and the likes of John Cena are cool, but we need unsung heroes with our kids in the front lines.

Maybe you are a lawyer, judge, doctor, or corporate executive; you’ve made a ton of money, yet something is missing. You want to give back. You want to do something meaningful. Well, kids need you.

Kids need good successful men in their lives. I teach at a community college and have now for over twelve years. Repeatedly, I see what a good role model could have done for some of my students.

Often, my female students talk about how important a good male figure would have been in their lives, the fact that not having a father or a positive male role model can lead girls down dangerous paths.

Kids Need a Few Good Men(tors)

Then there are the boys, the young men, that often grow up without a dad being there every day. The Pew Research Center reports that on third of all our kids live in a single-parent home, usually with the mother. There will be no continuous presence of both parents in the household. This is where you get to step in, even if you could not be there for your own kids.

I read these statistics in my social work class on juvenile delinquency. What amazes me is that the single best cure for an angry, depressed, or abandoned child is a genuine hug. It’s love. Those hugs and love don’t have to be actual (you want to leave that up to the parents), but you can hug them with your knowledge and life experience.

You can show them that there are good men in the world, men that don’t take advantage of kids or the “weaker” to benefit the stronger. Instead of seeing weakness, see the possibility of the young and impressionable minds in front of you. The sign of a good man is one that is not afraid of vulnerability but makes that vulnerability and that insecurity a strength. Show a timid child how to do that.

If your past job in business involved stepping on others to get ahead, now you can teach kids how to avoid being stepped on. If you told lies, teach them how to detect them, and if you hurt others, show them how to deal with the pain of being hurt. You can show them that real leadership comes from a leader that builds community, not one that destroys it for personal gain.

A Moment Changes a Life

My first real job was a school bus driver. I absolutely loved working with kids, though, at first, I thought I would despise the job and would not be able to stand the little “brats.” The opposite was true.

In the brief hour I would drive kids home, their faces would mirror joy, happiness, and an unpredictability and hope for life that most adults long lost, but the pain of home, of insecurity and of abuse would carry through.  For some, that hour on the bus was their only happiness. Others were difficult, but when they are, when they tell you to get lost, when they hit others, they are asking you for help. Now, this has become your mission.

I had many fantastic women teachers when I was a child. I remember the beautiful, big brown-eyed high school student that would reward me with cherry chocolates when I was struggling in kindergarten to my fifth-grade teacher that I thought, at 10, I was in love with. I would blush every time she’d call my name. The whole class laughed at me.

Yet, I remember. I remember her reading Old Yeller to us after recess; she had to run out of the room when Yeller dies. She started crying. That was 38 years ago, but just seeing her every day made my abusive life more bearable.

Yet, I only had one male gym teacher for a couple years. Then in high school, I met my biology teacher, a male. He was the nicest guy, and he said one thing to me that no one ever said, he said I was a “smart kid” and good at biology.

One sentence, even a fragment of positivity can change a life, and one ugly statement can send a child down a darkened path. You have great responsibility.

Teaching is Tough, so are You “Man” Enough

That meant the world to me, but here is advice from a teacher that works with at-risk students. Sometimes, maybe even often, teachers feel that they fail. But you have no idea how many kids you actually helped.

I struggled horribly in school, pushed from grade to grade on a 65.0 for three years in a row. However, my biology teacher planted a seed in me that would come alive when I was about 23. Though I quit school at 17, his words helped me return. I am now on my 6th college and university degree. I never had a chance to thank him.

Teaching is tough. That’s why women are good at it. There are politics, parents, and principals. There are too many kids per classroom, and sometimes you will hate it, but the impact you can have on a child’s life is unparalleled. Listen to women teachers. Learn from them, but find your own way to make a confident child and better community.

I write this to colleges and universities, to school districts with the message to recruit mid-career males into your ranks as teachers. Create programs for working professionals that want to help kids. These men have experience and maturity. Many are dads, military professionals, former cops, lawyers, business managers, and they can help our students be and live healthier. These men may be healthier themselves as a result. Most of all, guys, we need you.

Even at community college, it’s very tough to teach sometimes. I feel burned out, but I remember a student. She was doing very well in my class, straight A, and then she stopped showing up. She had only one assignment to do, the final paper. She never turned it in. I reached out to her by email. This was during the economic downswing.

She told me that she was a waitress, but everyone stopped tipping. She was homeless with her young son for weeks until her brother took her in.

I wrote her the following message back, “If you think your life sucks now, stay out of school.”

It was tough love.

She came back to school.

Sometimes you never know what happens to the birds you let fly away, but you let them knowing that they are free to come back.

Some do. You taught them to fly after all.