Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Struggles of Boy Teacher

Dylan Felton is an English teacher in his sixth year, working at Collingswood High School, a public school in Camden*, NJ. Felton aspires to be an "educational leader," which makes his recent piece in the Huffington Post all the more extraordinary.

In "What It's Like Being a Male Teacher," Felton mushes together a couple of separate issues, some of which deserve discussion and some of which make me want to sat, "Oh, Honey."

As a man in that job, I’ve been talked down to, talked over, patronized, condescended, corrected, and otherwise ignored most often by female teachers - I’ve been womansplained.

Oh, Honey. As I'm sure many people have told you at this point, womansplaining is not really a thing. It's just not.

Now, there are any number of things that could actually be going on here, and without sitting in CHS, I'm in no position to know what they could be. But here are some possibilities.

1) This is what it can feel like when you are trying to mansplain to others who fail to be properly impressed by your mansplanation. An alternate possibility is that you are not mansplaining, but given your stage in the career, you could be newby-teacher-who-thinks-he-knows-the-secret-of-everything-in-education-splaining (you are clearly too young to be old-fart-splaining).

2) It's more personal than gender-based. Your co-workers just think you're an ass.

3) You are fine, but your co-workers are jerks and the atmosphere of your school is a bit toxic.

And I’m not alone. Many of my male colleagues have reported a similar phenomenon. They’ll be in a meeting with other teachers, sharing an idea, when a female teacher will interrupt them and dismiss what they’re saying with a curt explanation. The mostly-female group will then move on, having forgotten the male teacher’s words.

I am in my thirty-eighth year of teaching and I have literally never seen this ever. Well, I've seen something like it, only with all the genders in this example reversed. But the longer I work, the larger percentage of my co-workers are women. They've always treated me just fine. Okay, there is one person here who has to work on the whole interrupting things and-- oh, wait. That's me. I get excited about whatever thought pops into my head.

But I've never seen a "curt interruption" that wasn't personal. I am reluctant to tell you this, but I think you are getting on some of your co-workers' nerves.

Felton points out that teaching has become a largely female profession, which is a true thing. But he wants you to know that this gender pressure he's feeling is not a "societal thing."

As a husband, my wife and I work hard at sustaining an equitable partnership. With our young daughter, we’re raising her in the absence of Disney princesses because there are lots ofreal female role models for her to emulate, thankyouverymuch. And for me, personally, many of my greatest heroes are actually heroines.

This is just short of "some of my best friends are women." And English teacher to English teacher, I'm going to suggest you be more careful with your introductory modifiers.

Felton's theory is that the larger number of female teachers has created a power imbalance that leads to more splaining and general oppression of Boy Teachers. And he has some thoughts about how to fix the imbalance.

He recognizes that getting more Boy Teachers is an uphill battle, and notes the attitude that women are more nurturing and so better fit the profession, and I will totally chime in on his example of how men pushing a stroller are treated. I can't begin to tell you how tired I got, back in the day, of explaining that no, I was not "babysitting" my children.

He points out that general reformy mess that is adding to the overall teacher shortage is not helping with the Boy Teacher shortage, and he notes that making the field more attractive in general would give employers the opportunity to more actively select Boy Teachers.

And, of course, it’s not just about womansplaining. It’s about the kids. Because students need to see a wide diversity of faces at the front of classrooms. They need different perspectives and backgrounds and role models that show them the full breadth of human life. And that’s something to strive for, too.

This might have been a good place to bring up the matter of racial diversity, too. I have to think that a teacher in Camden* might have noticed that we have a problem there as well.

There are certainly gender-related issues in the teaching biz, not the least of which is that the profession is disrespected by lots of powerful folks who think of it as women's work (and don't think much of women, to boot). And we certainly need more men in classrooms. But mansplaining about womansplaining is definitely not the way to make things better. 

*Collingswood is in Camden County, NJ, not Camden city.


  1. I think he's just a "new" teacher still and young enough that he still gets his feathers ruffled by everything. He probably works with veteran teachers that know how teaching used to be before the age of "reform" and he probably doesn't have much knowledge for what "used" to be emotionally good for the kids. I'm sure those veteran teachers are seething deep down inside, but not over any of his ideas (that probably sound reformish), but against a system that is constantly bashing their career choice and value set. It happens in nursing, too...although there are a lot of male RN's out there now.

  2. Who knows what the truth is of his situation without having been there? Why is it okay to patronize what he wrote (even if it turns out he's being a dumbass, which might well be the case), but not to suggest that some things women write about, complaining of "mansplaining," are childish, trivial, or otherwise not worthy of serious consideration?

    Perhaps part of the problem lies in terminology meant to entirely obviate ANYTHING said by entire groups/classes of people - men, straight people, black folks, etc. When ANY point raised by a member of Group A can be dismissed without consideration by a member of Group B simply on the basis of the other person's membership in Group A, we've left the realm of meaningful conversation and gone done the Identity Hole. It's almost always a mistake.

    1. I think he may not fully understand the term he's imitating. "Mansplaining" is when *unqualified* men attempt to teach *qualified* women about the topic, based on the sexist presumption that the woman must know less because she's female.

      That rules out an equivalent 'womansplaining' in this case because his female colleagues *are* qualified to talk about teaching. They might be dismissing or contradicting him, but they can't be 'womansplaining'. It would take, say, a female construction worker trying
      telling him how to teach to make it splaining.

  3. Never been in that situation. In my former school, the male jocks ran the place, talked to each other in short sentences, and dominated. All quite comfortable (for us guys at least). The boy may have a legitimate beef, but just hasn't realized that he's dealing with Bachaae and need to be careful if he doesn't want his liver eaten.

  4. To you, Peter:

    Yaaaayyyy! and thanks.

  5. Collingswood High School is not in Camden. Camden is an extremely poor city in NJ. Collingswood is a middle class town in Camden County. A detail, but an important one, at least to Collingswood.