Phone Conversation with Older Female Relative:
Her: I told Bill you moved to a private school.
Me: Oh yeah?
Her: Yeah, he said you probably took a pay cut, even though you may have less stress.
Me: Yeah just $2000 of my gross salary; he must not be as stressed as I was or burnt out as I was at his job.
Her: Well, I guess it’s easier for him because he’s a man.
[Insert shocked emoji, mouth wide open.]
This was my family member whom I had shared intimate details of what I had gone through as a teacher and here she was telling me that it was because I was a female not a male! After I made up an excuse to get off the phone before I said something I’d regret, I sat with this for a few days. What does it really mean to be a woman in the classroom was the question that kept coming up. Of course, my first instinct is to go on the defensive. Defend how good of a teacher I was and how other than a few outliers, I had lovely relationships with my students and that it wasn’t that they didn’t respect me because I was female but the overall system that squeezed me out of public into private. Or maybe it was just me–not female or male–just my temperament that forced me out.
So…what does it mean to be a female vs. a male teacher? While I can’t offer you a full answer as I have no personal experience being a male in the classroom, I can say one thing for sure: if you are childless and/or single, you will get burnt out fast in most schools. Not because you are male or female, but because principals will ask you to do extra tasks that are not part of your job description and you will feel shitty saying no. Because one, you don’t know how to say no yet, and two you feel like you don’t have a real reason like a family waiting at home to get back to.
That didn’t really answer what it looks like to be a female did it? Okay here it is: menstruation. Need I say more? Perhaps I do for that female relative of mine at least. I have to plan my changes [yes, I said it] according to when I have breaks. Sometimes this means I have ten minutes less of my already short lunch so I can change a tampon. You can be called out for your wardrobe choices when pregnant. Things like: “I see you aren’t worried about hiding that belly,” or “I thought pregnancy clothes were supposed to be looser,” can be said to you by your boss, yes your principal! Both of which are true accounts by the way. Bottom line it’s different, and no this isn’t meant to be a pity party in which I complain about all the shitty parts of being a female teacher.
I’m simply processing this idea that men have it easier in the classroom. Once upon a time this was may have been true, but in my decade of experience in the classroom, I have seen that it’s two things that make you successful: 1. Learning when and how to say no without guilt. 2. Knowing how to laugh at yourself and with your students. I have seen many young male and female teachers suffer through school years because they weren’t able to do one or both of the above. So in the end, dear esteemed female relative, it is not my gender, but my experience that determines my success as a teacher. Thank you.