By Teachers, For Teachers
We tend to underestimate the power an individual teacher can have in students’ lives. Children typically have only a small range of adults with whom they interact on a regular basis: Their parents, their extended family, their coaches, and their teachers.
When teachers have an opportunity to work face-to-face with their students daily for nearly a year, they occupy an important position as both an educator and as a role model. But what happens when there is a diminishing male presence of teachers – especially of teachers who are fathers themselves – on the development of students?
It’s important to take time to consider the impacts a “teaching dad” can have. Often, fathers get less acknowledgement of their range of responsibilities than their female counterparts: Moms get credit for juggling multiple spheres of responsibility, especially when it involves balancing a career and taking care of the family. But fathers too, we must acknowledge, have their own set of responsibilities when it comes to excelling in their careers and their home lives. This is equally true for those teacher-fathers who have a family of their own but also spend their day building into other people’s children. These “Teaching Dads” are able to make unique and important contributions in the young lives that surround them every day.
First, studies have shown that the gender of a teacher matters. Female teachers can handle any range of responsibilities related to the teaching profession; however, there’s one thing they cannot do better than their male counterparts: Inspire harder work and participation from male students.
The feminization of education has worked wonders for female students who are now more likely to aspire to and complete a four-year program at a university. Women are also embarking into mathematic, scientific, and engineering program which have traditionally been dominated by males. But the tradeoff has proven to have consequences for male students, who find themselves less inspired and less surrounded by positive male examples.
The teaching dad’s first layer of impact on his students is demonstrating for them what a mature, educated adult male looks like on a personal level. The next layer is that male students – whose achievement often remains neutral under female tutelage – are more likely to thrive when a male teacher is heading instruction. Studies have indicated that participation and inspiration increases for male students when they have a same-gender teacher. And add onto this the fatherless household rate – which in 2012 was about one in every three children – and the importance of having a male influence increases dramatically.
There is no doubt that teaching dads can bring much more into the classroom than their gender: They can bring their masculinity and their paternal instincts. Caring for youth comes naturally to a father, and teaching dads get to express that unique care with a range of students who, in many cases, are aching for fatherly attention. Just like fathers serve as a role model, inspiration, vision-caster, moral teacher, healer, protector, and knowledge giver to their own children, so too do they instinctively bring these essential characteristics into the classroom.
But what we have to further acknowledge is not just that teaching dads are male, but that they are fathers themselves, with children and responsibilities of their own beyond the classroom. Although gender stereotypes have steadily eroded over recent decades, it is still the cultural norm to expect fathers to provide the bulk of income to support a family.
Fathers who take jobs in education are often unacknowledged for the fact that their public service often offers them income that pales in comparison to a potential private industry income – and this to some extent demonstrates a degree of sacrifice teaching dads make for the benefaction of their students. This also indicates why there are a disproportionate number of female teachers at private schools whose wages are significantly lower, but whose hours and cultures tend to offer more flexibility to attend to family responsibilities.
Teaching mothers often enjoy a higher degree of understanding when they take their own family’s needs into consideration when accounting for their upcoming job expectations; teaching dads, however, in general work under the strain of having to be both the family breadwinner and more highly focused on their career contributions and success than their female counterparts. This expectation can also take away from a teaching father’s full ability to provide a balanced presence with his own children.
And of course, to fully acknowledge our teaching dads, we have to give a nod to the home life responsibilities they strain to accommodate. Although women are typically given attention for the preponderance of family care they provide – from taking care of the children to making dinners to doing laundry to cleaning the house – men often share an equal range of responsibilities. In addition to spending their own fatherly time with their children, the home and yard maintenance, fixing of broken items, managing of finances, and other major tasks might usually fall on their shoulders. The balance between being successful as a teacher and income-earner and taking care of one’s household is deceptively precipitous for teaching dads.
It’s no wonder, then, that many countries are trying to bring more males in the classrooms. When men – especially dads – are brought in, they are able to provide a unique range of impacts that benefits legions of students. No student loses when a teaching dad is a part of their life. And since a teacher who brings his paternal qualities into the classroom may also bring his teacher qualities to his home, no child of such a father loses either.
This video originally appeared in TeachHUB magazine, always available for free.