This isn't the stuff "Kindergarten Cop" fantasies are made of. For many male schoolteachers who dreamed of showing a new generation how to be a gentler kind of man, the publicity in response to sex crimes against children has them defending their job motivation. The Tampa Tribune reports that in light of an arrest earlier this month of a Tampa, Fla., kindergarten teacher accused of child molestation, male teachers say they feel they're being unfairly questioned on why they chose a career that involves teaching young children.
"I kind of look at it as I have to counteract that publicity and that behavior every day," Samuel Williams, 38, a kindergarten teacher at Ippolito Elementary School, told the Tribune's Steven Isbitts. He left a career as an investment banker to take up teaching three years ago. "I have had many people ask me why I want to teach little kids, but they ask as if there's something inappropriate in my motivation. There's a real double standard."
It's a sentiment that's discouraging some male teachers from teaching children in the younger grades. Nationally, only 9 percent of kindergarten teachers are male. That's a 40-year-low, according to the National Education Association.
"It's very sad. Male students have come to me after they've been challenged by their own families and friends," Pam Fleege, associate professor of early childhood education at the University of South Florida, told the Tribune. "Some are accused of being pedophiles. But they mostly get a lot of, 'What are you going to say when a parent confronts you?'"
Some parents don't get the chance because they request female teachers. But educators say they still get plenty of requests for male instructors, especially from parents who want male role models.
Why do some parents think it's perfectly acceptable for men to coach their kids in sports but get squeamish if they teach them reading? And before we worry that male teachers are more likely to molest young children, let's not forget some recent recent high-profile cases of female teachers sexually involved with adolescent boys.
Schoolteachers have it hard enough these days. They sacrifice high wages and societal respect. And it takes a special kind of man to carve out a place in a traditionally female bastion. For many, it's a calling, and they deserve our gratitude.