Monday, October 18, 2010

The Peggy Olson of My Mad World

Thats me. I am Peggy Olson. The Bay Ridger more famous for being a woman in a man's world than for her excellent work. You know, the person who busts their ass, but is never really fully appreciated or partially understood because people can't get past the fact that she is one gender and not the other. This is the struggle of every male teacher who teaches in an elementary or secondary educational environment.

Lets look back upon them, the male role models from the schools of our youth. They were either two things: the jock gym teacher/coach or the looney scientist/historian who wore the same tweed jacket and bean blucher mocs. That's it. The "real" educators, the ones who "made a difference", "who cared for their students" and lacked the balls (pun intended) to tell kids how life really is, and what they really needed to do to be successful in the real world were always the motherly role models I couldn't stand as a kid growing up. Sure they may be molding our youth to be fine young educators of the future, but our educational subculture is one that is completely opposite of how the real world works, and for our soon to be young men, the way we view male teachers is a real disservice..

Is it because I don't bake cookies for my class or my clearly visible tattoos that I make no effort to disguise? Maybe its my freakish beard that I let grow each winter. Maybe its not what's on the outside at all, but my masculinity that makes me the outcast in an insiders world. Remember, i grew up in a family of educators. My mother and father both taught school, and both went on to become highly successful principals. My mother, in a rough and tumble public middle school in Sunset Park which she single handedly turned around before retiring to a "cushy" job at a Staten Island Catholic grammar school ; and my father, who was the Associate Principal at a Brooklyn all girls Catholic HS, before finishing his career as the Principal of another one on Staten Island. The irony of the fact that my most important male role model worked with women and girls for most of his educational life is not lost on me. I've been on the inside, and I've seen how it works. On top of that, I've been teaching 7th and 8th grade in a K-8 school for 10 years now. I know I am a GREAT teacher, my kids will tell you that. Well, the ones who passed will. And even the ones who didn't have grown to realize that me being a hard-ass to them, and forcing them to work, was for their own good. Pushing students to do their best is not an easy task. Sometimes they push back. Literally.

I'm pretty sure my supervisors recognize that I do a good job, but I'm not so sure that they know how or why I work the way I do. I get the feeling a lot of people roll their eyes and think, "what a nutter" each time I'm crowing like a bird, hiding a "corpse" under a bedsheet behind police tape in the back of my room, or when I'm screaming as if I've been shot through the heart, and you're to blame. Yes you. Because its you, who continue to expect the same thing from your children's teachers who allow this stereotype of male teachers to live on. You want the teachers to bake cake. You want them to say "OK" without asking why. You're the ones who think the same things that women in the profession do when they see a man behind the desk or at the board. He's either a coach, or a whack job. Well, sorry to tell you, he's none of those. He's a man.

Part of the reason I enjoy dressing like I do is because it makes me feel like a man, in an emasculating profession. It separates me from the rest of my male colleagues, yet unfortunately it doesn't take me far enough away from the male educator stereotype. Maybe its that I love tweed too much, maybe its not. Men are different than women, for better AND for worse, and there's nothing wrong with being who you are no matter what you do. Right Peggy? Am I less of a teacher for not cutting out little fucking butterflies to post on my bulletin board, no, but you know what, I'm more of a man for not, and thats seriously lacking in secondary and elementary education.

Men don't back down when they think they're right. Men don't get involved in the caddy nature of the "educator", and when they don't, their seen as outcasts, or not part of the team. The problem is, is that the team isn't co-ed, its all girls. Its the same way that Peggy Olsen is viewed by her bosses on AMC's popular Sunday drama Mad Men. She does things the way a woman does, in a man's world, and she's damn good at it, but she's seen as a bit of a freak for being who she is, a woman. Well, ladies and gentlemen, she's not alone, because there are tens of thousands of male Peggy Olsen's teaching your children. Lets just hope that they all don't sell their balls down the river. If not for themselves, then for the sake of 50% of their kids that also have their reproductive organs on the outside. Y'ever wonder why it is that the boys are usually the ones who are in the most trouble in school? Its because the few male role models they do have aren't taken as seriously as their female educators, unless of course they are administrators. Where I'm sure my nagging mother (yea, another stereotype right atcha) will be thrilled when she hears thats where I'm headed next. I wish I wasn't, but I don't think I can take being pigeonholed much more. To all my fellow male teachers who read this, or my fellow male friends who are looking towards education as a career, this Bud's for you.


  1. It's admirable that you've been able to carve out your own niche in your profession, not falling to the typical stereotypres. Your studdents likely apprecicate it, too, and will remember fondly their time with Mr. R.

  2. I'm working on becoming an educator, much to the chagrin of my wife, herself an early childhood teacher. There's so much BS politics in education, especially in the south where we are (no unions), I'm beginning to think I'm an idiot to want to get involved in the school system. Parents want teachers to coddle their kids, and then freak out when their grades suck. "He's always made high honor role and now he's failing?" Yeah, well his previous teachers were more concerned about cutting out those little butterflies and making their door pretty.

  3. Hey, I stumbled on this through Put This On, and as a young male teacher (high school English), it is such a relief to read this. I agree that most male teachers are either coaches or considered crazy. Which is a slap in the face to people who want to teach. I've also met people who, upon hearing I choose to teach in a public school, say things like, "Well, something else will come along." or "Yeah, that's fine for now, sure."

    And it's also to see another teacher trying to dress his best. Male teachers at my school either wear track suits or baggy dad jeans with oversize polos. I don't know how they expect to command any respect when they dress like they hate themselves. Anyway, thanks for this. It's great.