Schools Fail Boys

Before you read, understand that this might be offensive or considered sexist, but I feel a need to share some thoughts I have had recently in regards to boys in our schools. We are failing them. I base my argument on the basis that yes, I am a boy myself, as well as the fact that I grew up with two brothers and have two sons of my own. With that in mind, I feel as though I have a fair amount of experience with boys in schools.

The first area in which I feel we are failing our boy students is the lack of male teachers in the classrooms. This is more prevalent in the primary grades where a child may go through their entire elementary experience without a single male classroom teacher. While I am certainly not saying there is something wrong with female teachers, I do see the importance of a strong male role model in boy’s lives. This is especially true of boys that come from divorced homes where they live with their mothers. Again, I am not saying single mothers can’t raise boys well, but boys need a positive male figure in their lives. I see a fair share of boys that lack a male role model at home and it is obvious in the way they conduct themselves in a classroom and with peers. While this may be cliché, boys need that male figure to help them grow up and “be a man”.

Another place in which I see us falling short with boys is the overall structure of our schools. Boys are inherently rambunctious, active and often loud. Yet, we ask them to sit in nice rows, be quiet, keep their hands to themselves and stay out of the dirt. If they fail to do this, we discipline them and if that doesn’t work we label and medicate them…all for just being boys. How can we create more boy friendly learning environments that support and encourage those naturally boy-like characteristics?

My final concern for boys in our schools is our post-Columbine obsession with zero tolerance policies in schools. Yes, I fully support the need for safety in our schools and bullying should not have a place among our kids. We should do everything in our power as teachers and parents to ensure every child comes to school and feels safe. However, have we gone too far with the zero tolerance policies? As a child I spent many days shooting my brothers and various other objects with a variety of Nerf, BB or pretend guns. Personally, I probably told my buddies or brothers that I was going to “kill them” numerous times. It was something all the boys I know did and none of us grew up to commit heinous crimes or end up behind bars. Yet, if a kindergartner is overheard playing “gun games” on the playground, he will be in the principal’s office and his parents will have a meeting with the social worker. If you doubt that, don’t. This happened to someone close to me this fall. Again, I realize the need for all kids to feel safe and go to school feeling secure, but at what expense? Millions of boys across this country play shooting games, gun games, and pretend “killing” and will grow up to live happy and successful lives.

I don’t want to sound like I am making excuses for boys because I am not. However, it seems as though schools are setting up boys for failure from the moment they walk in until they either comply or get through to graduation.

For some additional thoughts on this subject I encourage you to take a look at this TED Talk from Ali Carr-Chellman. 

Dallas Takeaways

The past six days I was in Dallas, TX as part of the National Teacher of the Year program sponsored by CCSSO. It was amazing to meet and learn with outstanding teachers from nearly every state in our country and many of our territories abroad. As with any such experience it takes a while to unpack all of the experiences and learning that takes place. I know in the days and weeks the follow I will continue to reflect back and revisit those experiences. However, I have some initial takeaways that I am sure will apply to any teacher.

Know your message:
We had an entire session aimed to help us craft and deliver our “message” about education. Now, I know that as teachers of the year, we will be asked our opinions about a great many things and always need to be ready to provide a response. However, any teacher should be prepared with their message. What do you stand for? If you had to sum up what education is about or should be, what would you say?

Tell our own stories:
If you follow me on twitter you might have seen my venting tweet the other day.

I was sitting in a session where the presenter was advising us all on how to deal with the media. When talking about social media, he used some pretty heavy scare tactics and exaggerated stories. He mentioned teachers that had been fired or dismissed for inappropriate use of social media and blogs that said bad things about the teaching profession. As politely and professionally as I could, I stood up and pointed out that yes, teachers have been disciplined for activities on social media. However, that is not a product of social media but rather of poor decisions of a human. I also pointed out that social media such as twitter and blogs is the one true place teachers can tell the stories they want. It is here that we share our successes or failures without the bias or slant of a journalist. I strongly urge all teachers to use all tools of media to share their stories and be a positive face for our profession. Don’t fear it, but embrace it.

In our final session of the week we did a small group activity with some role playing. We were discussing the topic of teacher evaluation and were using the roles of parent, teacher, administrator and policy maker. Through our discussions it was easy to see how we often only see things from the perspective of a teacher and maybe a parent. We rarely take into consideration the decision making process of an administrator or a policy maker in the government. That is not to say that we now agree with every decision that has been made in our collective states in regards to education. However, it gave us a perspective that I know I never really think about. In moving forward I am going to attempt to keep that in mind and look at the decisions in education through all lenses and not just that of a teacher.

All in all it was a great trip and learning opportunity. With that being said, I did have one tremendous disappointment. When I stepped outside of the airport I yelled, “The stars at night are big and bright…” but I didn’t get a reply. So bummed…