When I first started teaching almost 25 years ago, there were only a few men on the staff. In my own particular grade level, there were no men. When you are a male and teach elementary school, it is rare to work side by side with someone of your gender.
Working with a group of women is not as tough as you might think. They are generally pretty kind. They are sensitive to your needs as a new teacher. I had no complaints.
But I remember being pretty cocky. Upon my arrival in my new classroom, I noticed the restroom right outside my door said “Women Teachers” on it. This sign was a holdover from the late 1950’s when the old building was built. When I inquired about it, a few teachers said the gentlemen just used the boys restroom.
Thinking immediately that this was not fair, I hung a sign on the door that said “Faculty Restroom” and started using the restroom anyway. I mean, the door had a lock.
Other guys in the building followed suit, and the male janitor soon got a real metal sign and officially changed the name of the restroom. “Just make sure you put the seat down,” one of the seasoned teachers warned.
Man, I must have been pretty brave. No one seemed to protest but, boy, I’ll bet some of those older teachers thought I was a pip.
Despite my boldness, after a few years, I thought I was pretty in tune with women. I had heard all about birthing babies and other female things. They had long since stopped saying “Sorry you have to hear this, Mark.” I was just one of the girls.
Sometimes, I’d be on hand to give a male perspective and tell the girls what men really think. I think I got some husbands in trouble from time to time.
Indeed, one of my female colleagues came to school once and said she and her husband had had a fight. When she told him something I had said, he retorted, “Tell Mark Tullis to shut up.”
Every once in awhile, I would run into a snag. I wouldn’t understand why one of them was upset about a certain topic. I wouldn’t share enthusiasm over a big shoe sale at the Galleria.
And then I’d realize it: oh yeah, I’m a guy. Every once in awhile, I had to remind myself that I was of a different gender than the rest of them.
Many years later, I changed grade levels. On this particular grade-level team, there were two male teachers. My addition to the team meant there would be an equal number from each gender working together: three girls, three boys.
This team worked well together. It seemed the planets were in line and all was well. Everyone seemed to compliment one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
Oh sure. We still had our differences. But for the most part, things would go well.
We shared family stories with one another. We had holiday parties together. We planned birthday lunches and all kinds of things. We helped one another with our teaching struggles. We made copies for one another. It was a good team.
A few years back, after teaching the same grade level for many years, I had asked to be moved to this new team. The “newness” was exciting and invigorating. After teaching for more than 15 years, I felt like a new teacher again.
Last year, near the end of the year, I heard there was a possible opening at an upper grade level. Remembering how wonderful change can feel, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t think about it much.
When I found out they’d taken me up on my offer to move, I had mixed emotions. I hadn’t thought too much about leaving my current teaching team. I was a little sappy about it at first.
But as I prepare for a new school year, in a new building with a lot of new people, I am excited and once again feel like a new teacher. Indeed, my next several weeks will be spent staying organized and on top of things. I will be learning everything from scratch.
Did I mention I am the only male on my team? After almost 25 years, here I am again.
I’ve learned a lot since those early days of being the token male. I am not quite as bold as I once was.
But, I have been making sure I put the seat down.