Rare Breed In The Classroom

Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 9:30am

Male kindergarten teachers can be hard to find.

Music fills the air in Paul McManus' classroom at Consolidated School in New Fairfield, Connecticut.

It comes naturally because he was a music teacher for the first 20 years of his career, but now, he's a kindergarten teacher.

He is one of just a few dozen men teaching 4- and 5-year-old children in Connecticut.

"It was a little bit controversial in New Fairfield. The thing that was good for me is that I'd already taught here for 20 years," McManus said.

He fell in love with this age when his children were in kindergarten.

He calls it a very special time for parents and children and relishes in the fact that he gets to relive it year after year.

Consolidated School principal Wendy Seeley calls McManus' class a magical place.

"His classroom is a community of learners and they become fast friends and take care of one another," Seeley, who is a teacher turned administrator, said.

Paul is among the 3 percent of kindergarten teachers in the state who are men, according to the Connecticut Education Department.

The numbers are similar across the country.

Neither McManus and Seeley can understand why there aren't more.

"It shouldn't matter at all and I would like to have more men in the elementary school," Seeley said. "Many of our children need good male role models and they don't have a lot of them."

Meanwhile, kindergarten is changing drastically from a play-based environment to an academic bent.

Ten years ago, students were expected to master 15 sight words.

Seeley said state standards increased that number to 75 for this school year.

McManus has taken all the changes in stride, incorporating traditional play into the new push toward academic achievement.

"I still have blocks in the corner and they have sight words on them. So you can build with the blocks and you can pick up a block and say, 'I-T spells it' and continue building with the blocks," McManus said.

Regardless, this 35-year-veteran has found a home back in kindergarten.

"This is it, I found the place where I'm supposed to be," he said.

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