Mr. Gray

I’m in grade 9 and working late on the yearbook with my all-time favourite teacher, Mr. Gray and my friend Dave. Mr. Gray’s wife even came for a while and brought us food from Peter’s Drive In and we got to eat in the Staff Room. Dave and I get giddy from the sugar in our milkshakes. Neither Dave nor I live in the neighbourhood – in fact, I live on the opposite end of the city (it was a Fine Art’s School so I took two buses and a train to get there) so Mr. Gray kindly drives us home. He drops Dave off first, which only makes sense because it’s on the way. We talk about music (I believe we were listening to the Beatles, he was originally from Manchester I think) and his car (an old volvo). We arrive at my house. I thank him and go inside.

This is what I found out years later from the principal of that school.

Mr. Gray arrived home in a panic and his wife met him at the door. “Do you know what I just did,” he asked. “You drove a girl home unsupervised” she answered. He didn’t sleep at all that night. The next morning he was waiting for Mrs. Diodati when she arrived. “I drove a girl home unsupervised last night.” Mrs. Diodati said her stomach dropped when he said that. She sat down. “Who,” she asked.

“Melanie.”

“Oh thank God.”

I mean, Yay me that they didn’t have to worry about me causing trouble but a) how sad is it that he lost sleep over driving me home and b) how sad is it that there were girls in our school who would cause trouble for the sake of causing trouble. In fact, it was rather rampant at that time where junior high girls where accusing male teachers all over the city of inappropriate behaviour. (Our principal’s husband, who was also a principal, being one of them – he was found to be innocent.) This isn’t to say that I don’t believe there weren’t some instances of inappropriate behaviour – but not nearly as many as were being reported.

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I have been thinking about this article I read over at Work It Mom for days now. I find it very disturbing on a number of levels. How many of you thought that little story was going to end differently? Go read that article and then come back.

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The Mister has been a Scout leader for about four years now. When he started we were married but didn’t have any children. Some of the parents would give him funny looks for wanting to be a leader and questioned him about our plans to have children. He calls Moira our “secret handshake” because now he is much more acceptable. The kids he works with love him – he is young enough to still remember what it was like to be teenager and a Scout. When the Mister became a leader I told one of my really good friends and she was freaked out. Her Dad is an RCMP officer and apparently in RCMP speak if you say “Scout Leader” they hear “Pedophile”.

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This is what one of my male friends was taught while studying education: don’t touch the children, don’t hug them and if they try to hug you break away immediately, don’t put your hand on their shoulder, don’t ever be alone with a child.

Female teachers are allowed to hug students.

Another male friend (also now a teacher) used to work in a daycare when we were in University. I would meet up with him sometimes when he was getting off work. A tall, skinny fellow, when I showed up he would have a half dozen kids hanging off of him not wanting him to go. Sometimes he would bring his guitar and make up silly songs for them. I know that men are more likely to become predators than women but why does society now paint all men in that light? Why is it now inappropriate for an unmarried and/or childless man to want to hang around children? Why must he have an ulterior motive? What are we taking away from our children by not giving them the opportunity to have before male and female teachers/mentors outside the home?

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I only saw Mr. Gray once after I left junior high. He went back to being a Principal of what would be considered a pretty tough school in this city.  When I knew him he was “on sabbatical” for a year – teaching English and Social Studies at my junior high. I guess being on sabbatical doesn’t count for much when you are getting a crappy salary. I mean, you really must love teaching to spend your year off teaching – no matter how poor you are. When I went to visit him at his school two years later he was dealing with the world’s most annoying 8-year old boy who had a ton of behavioral issues and probably ate pure sugar for lunch just to kick it up a notch. I remember him trying to hit Mr. Gray and Mr. Gray having to carry him away to calm him down. I had never – ever – wanted to be a teacher but I think that clinched it. I also never again had a teacher I liked as much as Mr. Gray.

Your thoughts?

10 Responses to Mr. Gray

  1. Seems completely acceptable to me to have male daycare workers, etc. I wish there were more. It is sad that people are uncomfortable with the idea.

  2. Funny thing is that there are some real issues, as far as I am concerned, with only women caring for children at daycare. Men instill a different set of values and impressions on children. Boys and girls also learn differently and will seek out different things from each gender of parent. Dads, for example, are for rough play and energy expending, while Moms are nurturing etc. I think more men should work at daycare. I coached soccer for 13 year old girls and was a Ranger leader two years ago. Both times it took a lot of convincing and a criminal record search for me to convince the directors of the groups that I was in it for the “right” reasons.

    I totally remember a teacher I had, almost the same situation as you. Years later I ran into him and he said the stress of working with the teenage girls was really overwhelming.

  3. I am very much aware of how our society has made villains out of men. A dear colleague of mine, a doting grandfather, said a woman reprimanded him for smiling back at her 2-year-old in the bus. Her daughter found that he looked funny and smiled at him, and he naturally smiled back. The mother spoke sharply at him for his natural reaction.

    Yet, when it comes to elderly men sitting alone in children’s playgrounds, I don’t like it. Even though, I must confess, I sometimes spend a minute or two resting on a bench in a playground, just to hear all those sounds and see all those kids scrambling around. It takes me back to those times with my own children. And, I am aware that it is unfair that no one would ask me to leave the grounds.

    I loved the story of Mr. Gray. Everyone should have such a teacher once in their school life.

  4. Your nephew Aaron worked at the military daycare centre for a whole year. All these dads (and some mums) were deployed to Afganistan at the time. To this day Aaron says it was the best job ever. When I would see him at work, all these little boys would literally be hanging off of him…how good was it for a male to work in a daycare while their dads were away at that time. The mothers and staff loved it.

    he’ll be a good dad someday….just not yet thanks!!!

  5. Jen: I was thinking the same thing while writing this but it was getting long and I thought we could deal with that in the comments. I too think there are issues with women-only education. Having three nephews (thanks Sis!) I have been very interested in discussions about how teaching styles used to be geared towards boys and have fully shifted to being geared towards girls which is leaving our boys at a disadvantage. I think part of the problem is that most of our boys teachers are women. (Not the only problem – just part of it). Men do bring a different energy to teaching. In fact – Mr. Grey’s teaching style was one of the best I ever had and his whole personality made me want to learn what he was teaching (I got something like 99% in Social Studies that year and won an award – feel free to be impressed until you see the rest of my report card 34% in math one semester… anyway…) My nephew Sam has real problems with school but did a lot better one year when he had a male teacher.

    Amanda: I was thinking about Aaron working in the daycare while writing this. I think he would do well working in a field that has something to do with kids – except that he is interested in money these days and most of those careers don’t scream “Money!” And yes, I hope his fatherhood days are along time coming but he is Your son… ;)

  6. There’s a line in a song I like that goes, “Thou shalt not think every man who plays with a child that is not their own is a pedophile – some people are just nice.”

    It’s definitely sad that there is a double standard with men and women and kids. Other people have elucidated it better than me, but I wanted to add my vote.

  7. Definitely food for thought. Thank you for bringing this up. I would write more, but I’m getting “Mommmy, come play wis me pweeeeez?” and I can’t concentrate enough to gather my thoughts.

  8. I am a high school teacher and a woman. I do not hug students and I would NEVER be alone with a student (male or female) in my car. As a matter of fact, our school has a strict policy that staff is not allowed to drive students ANYWHERE. This is for all staff, male or female.

    Is it sad that it has to be this way? Yes. But it’s a precaution we have to take not only to protect the students, but to protect ourselves from the very type of troublemakers you describe who would bring false allegations.

  9. Robyn: I don’t blame your school for that policy AT ALL – but yes, it is sad that it has to be in place. My former schools probably have that policy now too but this was *glup* almost 20 years ago that I was in Grade 9. I was thinking of my friend who is an elementary school teacher who is still allowed to hug her students – although I haven’t asked her lately so maybe the policy on that has changed too. She doesn’t instigate the hug, but she doesn’t have to pull away either.

  10. Having taught in city schools where minority students came from matriachal societies, I was accustomed to giving hugs and receiving them. There was never a question. Male teachers had a much harder time establishing themselves and their credibility. I would never ride in a car with students, for practical reasons and legal reasons.

    I do remember one of my kids’ favorite babysitters was the boy across the street who brought fun, and piggyback rides, and ice cream shakes.

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