The Behaviour Files: Being a Male Role Model and other Labels

This is the fourth in a series I’m calling The Behaviour Files, in which I explore ideas, strategies, and experiences educating students identified with behaviour exceptionalities.

When I was in elementary school, there was a big, physically imposing male teacher. Let’s call him Mr. D. He had a loud, deep voice which reverberated through the corridors of a school like a huge didgeridoo. It was generally understood that, if you misbehaved or got into trouble, you would be sent to Mr. D to get reamed. It was the school version of ‘wait ‘till your father comes home’. You could hear Mr. D a few times a day from any part of the building. We may as well have been living in a region of the world where earthquakes and aftershocks are frequent. You just got used to it.

Actually, I never got used to it. As a relatively compliant student, I was always embittered by the existence of Mr. D and his screaming. I not only found it completely unnecessary, but was also terrified of the prospect of standing in front and below him, as the storm which emanated from his mouth engulfed me. To this day, I wonder about how and why Mr. D became who he was. I also wonder (although this never occurred to me at the time) why his colleagues would send us to him, creating a real life bad-cop-boogie-man in the school. Talk about passing the buck. I remember taking mental notes about him: “That is not a man you want to become.”

As you may know if you’ve been following my blog as of late, I’ve become preoccupied with the who, what, where, why, and hows of students that are identified formally or informally with behaviour problems in school. It’s a very unfashionable topic in education, I’ve realized. It’s been a while since I was involved in pedagogical praxis where I’ve felt this… solitary. For the past few years, I’ve been so active and connected to educators around other innovative pedagogies, that it is both uncomfortable and, strangely, refreshing to learn in this way. But that’s for another blogpost.

Being a male teacher with this professional interest automatically means you become The Male Role Model for a few reasons. Firstly, you are often one of only a few males in a predominantly female staff. Second, the students that present themselves with anti-social behaviours are almost immutably boys. Finally, these boys, from my own anecdotal experience, are very frequently missing strong, male figures in their lives who they can take implicit or explicit instruction from. It can often be frustrating to be labelled in any way shape or form, whether it’s because of genetics, skills, or simply an interest you have, and even if the label is ‘positive’. For the most part, however, I’m OK with people looking at me this way. I’m by no means a perfect man (whatever that means), but it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that the life experiences I’ve had and knowledge I’ve attained living on this earth as both a boy and man don’t equip me with lessons to pass on to my younger counterparts.

The thing I fear though is the idea that I’ll become a quieter, less loud version of Mr. D. I want to demonstrate leadership to my colleagues who teach these students of ours that are arguably in most need of assistance, but I know I need to be careful not to be the ‘go to’. I’m already the ‘tech guy’, which means, as my friend Oren Grebler used to say, makes you both the hero and villain. Can I avoid becoming the ‘behaviour guy’? We’ll see.

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  1. says

    This is a great post. It reminds me a lot a of a conversation I had the other day with my students. Some of my grade 5 boys were goofing around. Nothing harmful, probably a fart joke or something to that end. I gave them a look, and they stopped. I then looked to a group of girls in class and sighed “boys”. Everyone laughed (boys and girls). Then someone said “but you’re a boy”. I corrected her and said “I’m a man”. What followed was a really light-hearted and humorous exchange about growing up and maturing.

    I think that these conversations are part of role modelling. Students should be able to see that “it’ll all work out”. Being a kid is tough; having anchors in their life is important. You might be an anchor. It’s important that you take that role seriously.

    In terms of Mr. D… we all have them. Don’t worry about him. I think it’s better to spend time thinking about the kind of teacher you WANT to be. The teacher that I think about the most is my high school physics teacher Mr MacDonald. Nothing special in terms of teaching, but he always honoured us as people. That’s the kind of man I want to be, never mind teacher.

  2. says

    Appreciated your thoughts, Royan. Made me think about how we learn from the “Mr. D’s” (how we don’t want to be) but hopefully we all learn from a few Mr. G’s (good stuff). I am sure you will do well ahead :)

  3. Lisa Noble says

    First thank-you is for this series. You’re looking at some of the questions I find myself asking a lot, and I’m really enjoying your thinking- and your exploration of an area that needs some light (I have this image of you with a flashlight, shining it into corners that haven’t seen daylight in a while).

    I have an interesting twist on Mr D. Our variation is a gentle giant, with a deep voice (which he has not raised, I don’t think, in the 7 years I’ve taught with him). The kids, and particularly my boys who are missing those male role models tiptoe around him like he is made of glass, and he’ll break if they make one false move. They respect him, simply because he is a big, very male, old-school structure guy. It is a revelation at times to see students who have a track record of “producing” very little, sit down and, with Mr X’s support, come up with something. It can also be frustrating, both for him, and the rest of us (his intermediate level colleagues) because a student who is oppositional and disruptive in our classes is not in his, because he is a man (and the kids can actually articulate that). It sometimes breaks all of our hearts, as we try to work through that gender bias, which is so ingrained in some of our kids (and yes, it’s almost always boys). (We don’t, by the way, send our kids to him for discipline – this is just what we see on a rotary basis).

    I’ve dug into this a little with my students (usually when we’ve had a particularly difficult session in French) , and they tell me it’s about the deep voice, and the actual presence of Mr X…..not necessarily the way he teaches, or any particular consequence he uses. It makes for interesting discussions.

    Might be interesting to see what your female colleagues think about the phenomenon. And yes, you do have much to pass on as a male role model. I work to do the same for both my male and female students as a geeky, feminist, non-traditional woman. :)

  4. says

    I am home for a few days and this kinda came up at a dinner with extended family. My brother in law was identified in grade 7 and he told a few stories that made Kyla’s eyes the size of saucers… When he was done she very quickly said “Mr. G would never have done that…” My mom shared my favourite (but not quite true story) of Mr. M who saw how bright I was he let me start school too when she went to register my brother…

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