Why It Pays for Dads to Be Involved at School
If one were to list the contributing factors to becoming a good student, parent involvement is sure to be a factor. After all, engaged parents increase accountability for their child(ren) as well as school staff.
But parental engagement with schools is more typically via mothers/female guardians. I’ve seen this personally at my children’s school. There are significantly fewer fathers at school-based activities and volunteering at my children’s elementary school.
Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no place for dads when it comes to being involved in your child’s school. Not by a mile. It can sometimes just take a bit of extra effort for a father to find his place.
A World of Women
Traditionally, elementary school has been a woman’s domain, and this doesn’t seem to be changing. An article on the Association of American Educators blog entitled the “The Teacher Gender Gap” noted that “Male educators constitute just 2.3% of pre-K and kindergarten teachers, 18.3% of the elementary and middle school teacher population, and 42% of the high school level teaching staff.” Particularly for our younger students, women are the norm, and there’s a historical reason for that. When women were much less engaged in the work force, teaching was one of the few professions where they were welcomed. While women have been encouraged to join other professions (and have done so), men continue to be woefully under-represented in the education field.
This could also inform why mothers are typically the parent who’s more involved with the school. Historically, women didn’t always work outside the home, so they had more availability to participate in school activities.
While elementary schools continue to be a female-dominated atmosphere, times have changed, so this should not preclude dads/male guardians from being engaged.
From the Dads Themselves
Paul M. Bowers is a stay-at-home dad to his one son, Jesse. The San Diego-based Bowers was a photographer before he approached his wife and told her he wanted to be home with their son full-time. Since he was home, Bowers was determined to be engaged in his son’s school.
And engaged he was. When Bowers’ son was in elementary school, Bowers was in the classroom at least once a week as a volunteer. He also served as president of the school foundation and launched the school’s email program. During his son’s middle school years, Bowers organized a class that met every Friday in which students learned how to interact on a civil basis. Bowers ran the class for a few years, even after his son graduated.
Like Bowers was, Jack Parkin, an IT professional, is engaged in his children’s school. Parkin and his wife have three children ages 9, 7, and 5, and they live outside of Pittsburgh. He has served as an officer in the PTO and runs an after-school Lego club. In addition to doing things on the premises, Parkin created the PTO’s website and runs a Facebook community for parents and employees of the schools. He’s also served on multiple committees for the school district.
Neither Bowers nor Parkin has ever noticed anything remotely biased against dad/male guardian involvement in schools. Parkin says, “I feel welcomed and trusted at the school. Teachers treat me with the utmost respect, and the principals have been supportive.” Bowers also found the environment welcoming, “They let me in the classroom because I was offering, and they could use the help. Other male parents who volunteered were also welcomed.”
According to the Pew Research Center, “dads are much more involved in childcare than they were 50 years ago…and many feel they’re still not doing enough.”
However, both sensed an undercurrent. Parkin says, “While the PTO makes an active attempt to get everyone involved, I’ve seen dads come to a meeting and never return. The aura around the PTO is women, and they don’t see me as an equal in that arena.”
Despite Bowers frequent appearances at the school, his wife was the one they turned to in an emergency. “My son fell and broke his arm during elementary school. and they called my wife even though I was first on emergency contact. They didn’t even know her.”
When push comes to shove, schools seem to fall back to a traditional style. As mentioned, this likely stems from men being at work, and women left at home to care for the children. Education is part of that care, and mothers were expected to deal with their children’s education.
Yet, family dynamics are changing. While the number of stay at home dads is not known since the census bureau does not track it, the National At-Home Dad Network believes there are at least 7 million stay-at-home dads. Whatever the exact number, the consensus is that it’s growing. Dads in general are changing. According to the Pew Research Center, “dads are much more involved in childcare than they were 50 years ago…and many feel they’re still not doing enough.”
To get dads/male guardians more engaged in activities and volunteering at schools requires the institutions to break through stereotypes. They need to make men feel equally wanted and respected as a partner in the education process. Parkin suggests, “Schools could be more mindful of engaging dads and make it a point of focus to get them engaged.” Based on the Pew Research results cited above, the interest is there.
Reaching out and encouraging dads/male guardians to become engaged in schools is not simply about equality or adapting to new realities. Fatherhood.gov notes that “When fathers are involved in the lives of their children, especially their education, children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior. Even when fathers do not share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact.” Additionally, U.S. News and World Report writes that “More frequent father engagement in a child’s literacy and education results in higher achievement levels in reading and math for the child.” The article also notes that when fathers become engaged, “in school settings early in their children’s lives are more likely to stay engaged longer.”
These days, Bowers says, “It’s remarkable that a guy is volunteering but when a woman does so, it’s not remarkable.” Hopefully, a day will come where dads/male guardians attendance at their child’s school activities and volunteering at their schools will be the standard. All parties – children/students and the schools as well as the dads/male guardians – will be better off in such a scenario.
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