Now that I am working in a public school, I feel more confidence as I tell people I am an elementary school teacher. Having a full-time position means that someone did a background check as well as screenings to make sure I was qualified educate the young bright minds of our future leaders. It is rare to find male educators as the grade level goes down. Many people see it as an advantage as the sight of a male pre-k or kindergarten teacher is so rare. Bigfoot may have had more sightings.
Still, even as a certified, working in public education teacher, I still have my UFT, DOE Sub ID card in hand ready as I enter toy stores and the children's section of a bookstore or library. Those items are not needed if you have a female companion with you. I don't know why, but that usually negates any sort of suspicions towards you.
Last year, I went to the children's section of the Flushing Public Library to set up a trip for my pre-k class. When I entered, I bee lined straight towards the help desk seeking the information and person I needed. Unfortunately, the librarian at the desk told me the person who I was seeking stepped out for 15 minutes. I decided I would browse for some books to pass the time. I looked through the picture books and was approached by the security guard.
I knew immediately why she approached me. Tall man with no visible child or female companion at his side in the children's section of the library is a red flag for some reason. She asked…
"Excuse me sir. Can I help you?"
I'm not sure how a security guard could help me if I did need assistance in finding a picture book. I figured if I did need help in that area, I would look for a person who was more equipped for that sort of thing…someone like a librarian.
My immediate response was that of a TOTALLY innocent person that was wrongly accused of a crime. I had all the evidence on my side, but still felt nervous anyway. Kind of like a paranoid person walking out of a store, free of any wrongdoing, without purchasing anything and still nervous that the alarms will go off as he exits.
My words were, "Nooo…*nervous chuckle* I'm a teacher and I'm here to set up a class trip. I'm just waiting for the person in charge who can help me…."
She sighed in relief and let me go.
Another awkward experience at the Flushing library was when I did have a female friend with me. At some point, she wandered away from my perimeter and red flags started to go up. I work in the same community I live in so it isn't uncommon that I will spot a student I know from the school. Usually I do my best to avoid them as their parents may be suspicious of their child talking to a male adult.
On this particular day, a student found me. I was browsing the picture books when a student whose class I substituted for recognized me and came by to say hello. Maintaining eye contact with the bookshelf only, I engaged in a short brief conversation with this 2nd grader. I tried to end it quickly, but the student kept talking and talking. The security guard, who looked like Kenny Rogers, was patrolling the area. Luckily, the conversation ended and I was not harassed for talking to a child who I clearly did not walk in with.
I'm glad my parents are appreciative and accepting of their child having a male teacher. It's funny since when I decided that I wanted to be a teacher, my ideal grades were 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. Now it's hard for me to imagine myself in grades other than Pre-K.