The Problems of a Tall, Redheaded Male Relief TeacherBy Teachers.Net News Desk
Posted by an anonymous teacher on the Australia Teachers Chatboard
I’m a media/art teacher, who also takes on design and technology classes. The issues described below are not necessarily an initial barrier to employment, but are issues that need to be managed during my employment.
According to academic research, a 6ft.4 male I am automatically given a greater level of perceived authority in the classroom by high school students, more than most other teachers. Teenagers respect males more than females and they also respect height. This teenage perspective (influenced heavily by popular/dominant culture) is extremely unfair not only on female teachers, and not fair on males to a much lesser extent if: you are (like me) an educator who doesn’t want to be perceived as an ‘authority’ on everything… who wants authority (media, hierarchies, etc) to be questioned… who knows that students are more likely to critically analyze what they are doing, when not under an ‘authority’ figure… who sees that students enjoy working on their interests when they are not under a perceived ‘authority’. Only when protection of child welfare and your responsibilities regarding that welfare does the reality of your authority come to the forefront of your role as a classroom teacher. In general, as an educator in a permanent or even temporary contract position it is easy to shake this perception of authority by setting curriculum tasks etc that reflect what I just described; by having exclusive time and building a relationship of non-authority with these students at least two to three sessions a week.
However, as a relief teacher you are automatically perceived to have no authority. It’s debatable, but in a low-SES area public school out of a class of say 30 student; only 10% will get on with work; 20% will do everything they can to disrupt the class; and 70% will feel they don’t need to work for the session/lesson and attempting to get them to do work will frequently turn those students into a growing part of the 20%. This is a reality of relief teaching, that students will attempt to break not only normal classroom expectations, but also school rules. Breaking school rules is not acceptable, and no other position in teaching is
confronted by this than the relief teacher.
In many ways, when you are in the circumstances of being a relief teacher, being a 6ft.4 male is a huge advantage in terms of classroom management. However, I’m finding it can also be a disadvantage in other ways. The more perceived authority you have, the more pressure students feel they need to push you, when you push them to simply meet even a lower standard than normal classroom expectation. Typically, students go for the easiest way to under-cut a relief teachers authority (in order to break classroom expectations and school rules), this is really well documented. In the mind-set of children/teenagers males are harder to undercut that women. Women gain automatic support from the attitudes of females students, from other non-senior staff and then if need be from senior staff. It is not acceptable in anyway to discriminate against women, and rightly so.
However, as a red head, there are often very few students with whom you find support with any sway over a class, rarely do you find non-senior staff willing to make an issue out of red head harassment with a 20% student, its perceived as not worth making waves over. If you are competing for the same job as that non- senior staff member or they have some other issue with you… you can forget about getting support. Nobody seems to look down on a teacher who tolerates red head abuse, no threat to their job at all to let it go by. I’ve actually had non- senior staff come to me and inform me of the harassment that student call me behind my back and that he did not seem to want to stop as he told me with a grin on his face. “They call you gingernut” (as in ‘ginger be nuts’). I don’t know what his problem with me was, but I felt sure he wasn’t going to address the harassment, nay bullying of a teacher by a set of students. Yes, every senior staff will take on the task, however these staff members are time poor and the reality is that you lose. Every time an issue gets to a senior staff member, its time they cannot afford. Your employment suffers.
You find yourself making compromises, putting up with general harassment at work from students to not create waves. This leads to greater and greater levels or disrespect from students. Other teachers ask why you put up with it, you cant explain and you make excuses. Your behavior management strategies are put into question, even when many students actually chant the repetition of classroom expectations (considered best practice) that you set while your on yard duty.
The issue can become a positive influence to 80% (non-20% students) of the school as issues of discrimination and even race become topics of discussion. However, as a senior staff member, who in the hell wants to deal with these divisive issues, that can quickly turn… my guess is very few. Your employment suffers.
In terms of competing for positions at a school these issues need to be managed by me, but how?
I’m put at a disadvantage over other teachers… I dare say even female teachers that the research says I have an advantage over. I am after all the ango-male (cant hide my anglo heritage with red hair) with all the advantage right? I am not for a second claiming that I have less advantage in life than women, as research clearly suggests. However, as my role as a relief teacher, I can certainly question that I am at any advantage (i would say disadvantage), because of the rightful and absolute support they receive on being female… which redheads don’t seem to get.
The periods I have had as a contract teacher this has never been a problem, the issue of a redhead barely becomes a blip on my radar. I don’t need the authority as a classroom teacher, kids get to know me, not holding fast to their pre- conceived perceptions.
When you are put in the position of relief-teacher it sucks… hardest job going in education. I wonder how short males get on or is it not an issue for them? ‘Ranga’-bashing is almost a trend in Australian society at the moment. Not racist, so it’s okay… right?
These issues are know to any senior staff worth their salt. How do I put a positive spin on the types of issues they are likely to encounter? How do I make it easier on their time?