EDITOR'S NOTE: This column first appeared in 2018 and is being republished as a welcome back to the school year.
I’m thinking a great deal about women teachers these days, their school year still lying before them. In fact, I’m going to sing their praises since I know from close experience how important and how unheralded they are.
Why women teachers? Frankly, because their influence on me and the debt I owe them is beyond measure. I’m not referring to the teachers who taught me, though I also owe them a great debt of gratitude, but to female colleagues past and present. I’m grateful for the men with whom I’ve taught over the years. Coaches, particularly, are my heroes. But in the two states, six schools and three colleges I’ve taught in, the women teachers have outnumbered the men more than two to one. Individually and as a group, these women bear several distinctives.
Some readers will view the following observations as condescending. Sorry. I still open and close the car door for my wife and intend to do so until I’m bent double. Others might think these observations are out of step with modern times. I certainly hope so. There are many things about our exciting present world which I hope I never adapt to such as declining manners, vulgar language, our nation’s passionate love affair with alcohol, and all of the outlandish talk about choosing our gender. In many ways the present age is better; in many ways it isn’t.
But regarding women, it’s a long way from the ‘70s cry, “I am woman; hear me roar” to the contemporary “Me Too” movement. Gloria Steinem, in her first issue of “Ms Magazine” declared, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Turns out, quite a few women now need the help of men and other women alike to bolster their claims of past male misbehavior.
I’ve been surrounded by women my entire life. Here’s how: one mother, ten sisters, fifteen nieces, one wife, two daughters, two daughters-in-law, six granddaughters, and over 400 stellar women in the teaching profession. Except for the ten sisters, such a scenario is not uncommon for most other men in teaching.
For what they are worth, here are four conclusions I’ve drawn from working among females.
One, they are as protective of men as men supposedly are of women. OK, risky language for these overly sensitive times, but most female teachers, married or not, parents or not, possess a Mama Bear complex. To me this is joyous. The first year I taught school, every woman in the building encouraged and “looked after” me and two other male neophytes. My second year, at age 23 at an all black school (I’m white), dear female teachers who knew my unstated and un-discussed mission for being there would say, “Mr. Hines, we gonna look out for you and you gonna be alright.” Lord, I loved those women and still do.
Women teachers tend to “look out” for their male students as well as for the coaches and all other male teachers. Such an attitude makes for a productive and enviable workplace.
Two, their sense of self and self-confidence is neither fragile nor undeveloped. Women teachers are tough. You will probably never hear a female teacher demand “safe space” or “sanctuary.” You might hear a big 6-foot boy beg for safe space from his female teacher. One of the pleasures of life is seeing a petite female teacher dress down a big, tall, smarty pants boy, reducing him to fear.
Three, their families perch at the front of their minds. Please get this. Female teachers with families deal with children or teens all day, go home and serve their families, and then at 9:30 or 10:00 PM sit down to prepare or review for their next day of teaching. Standing before people to teach requires ongoing thought and preparation. Am I trying to evoke sympathy for female teachers? Yes. They manage two operations, a family and a full teaching load. So, of course, do non-teaching working women, but right now I’m celebrating teachers.
Four, like my wife Nancy, most women teachers could run the world. Organization and execution are two of their greatest strengths.
Oh, Nancy, I see you denying yourself, pouring your life into the lives of a husband and four children. Betty Gray, Sue Gandy, Stella Ross, Jeanette McCloud, and Carla Northcutt, you my five female supervisors, I see you lending your inestimable intelligence and energy to Cobb County Schools, making a mark that still is apparent today.
God, please bless all of our women teachers and please give them a good school year.