A brief personal perspective
A number of years ago when I was teaching English to students of other languages in Hong Kong, I did some work for an international kindergarten. My job was to create a programme to promote language for children who were about to leave for primary school. Having taught children of all ages at primary and secondary levels, I particularly enjoyed my time with the kindergarten group and decided to pursue a career as an early childhood teacher.
I can still remember the day I walked into my first class as a student at AUT in Auckland. Initially I thought that it was the wrong class and actually walked out and asked someone if it was the midwifery section. When I walked in again I did feel a touch out of place but sat down and took a deep breath. It turned out that I was one of two men in a class of over a hundred women. The only reason I didn't recognise the other guy was because he had long hair and got a bit lost in the crowd. As I settled into life in the campus as a male ECE student I got to know most of the women in my class and have to say that they were extremely welcoming. After a while I didn't feel awkward or out of place at all and didn't think of myself as anyone different.
What helped me a lot was having an excellent Associate Teacher during my very first practicum. To continiue in this profession it was important for me to generally feel accepted as a team member and this teacher was extremely supportive and encouraging. What also helped as far as I was concerned was the support that I received from a number of lecturers at AUT and at the end of Year One I finally felt that I was on my way and would continue to pursue a career in early childhood education. I was also introduced to a group of men in the profession who are part of a support network for male teachers in New Zealand, known as EC-MENz. I did find it comforting to know that I could discuss any apprehensions with other men in the profession.
Another aspect that I had to get used to was a constant enquiry by people to whom I was introduced as to why I wanted to be an early childhood teacher. Although a number of them offered a positive response some couldn't resist reminding me of an old and questionable case of child abuse by an early childhood teacher many years ago. With that mindset it is no wonder that a number of men are apprehensive about entering this profession that is still balanced in favour of women. I do, however, feel that the social mindset has improved with regard to men entering the early childhood profession. To quote the Chief Executive of the Early Childhood Council, Peter Reynolds who refers to ECE teaching as one of the most gender segregated, "Such segregation would not be tolerated in law or medicine. It is ridiculous that it exists in a sector that has the fundamentally important job of nurturing our youngest of children" (Early Childhood Council).
I have often wondered why more men, especially young men setting out to find a career in life, do not consider becoming an early childhood teacher. To some extent one can say it's because of the nurturing aspect that is associated with young children which has historically been looked upon as a female role. As a preference some parents possibly look upon caregivers as female and don't make that connection if a male is involved in nurturing their child in an early childhood environment. Nevertheless, I often wonder why the government has never promoted its support for male early childhood teachers as they have for women in the police force. Based on her own research Dr Sarah Farquhar of ChildForum initiated invitation awards and scholarships for men training to become a fully qualified ECE teacher. Further details of this incentive can be viewed here.
In a New Zealand survey based on 834 responses conducted by Dr Sarah Farquhar of ChildForum in August 2012, 64% of respondents thought that the government should take some form of action to increase male teachers in early childhood education. A majority of respondents also felt that men in an early childhood environment would help better staff relationships and team dynamics. I can personally vouch for this from my own personal experience as I work in a centre that strongly supports men in the environment and I have often had discussions around this issue with my colleagues who see the benefits of gender balance not only for themselves but for the children as well. To view the findings of this survey by Dr Sarah Farquhar you can download this PDF file.
So what differences do I think men offer as a part of a team in an early childhood centre? I do feel that along with benefitting the teaching team by offering a male perspective, it also benefits a number of children who possibly don't have male role models in their lives. This exposure to male and female teachers at a centre offers children the exposure to different body language, perceptions, and activities. In an earlier musing on 'A workshop on boys in ECE' I mentioned that giving boys the opportunities to take risks are important which can be linked to the four year old testosterone boost. In this context, perceptions can differ between male and female teachers as to what is considered risky and what is considered dangerous and as such, not encouraged. This could also include aspects of rough and tumble play and setting guidelines to determine what forms of play are acceptable in the environment. The benefits of rough and tumble play are briefly reflected on in my short 'Musings on rough and tumble play'.
Being a male early childhood teacher also offers whānau a gender choice to approach for discussions that they may want to have with regard to their child. A father may on occasion feel more comfortable to approach a male teacher as a personal preference and that choice is available with male teachers present in the team. I have noticed this preference personally, particularly from a cultural perspective and reflect on a father from the Middle East who appeared more comfortable addressing me when discussing his son. Offering gender balance as a teaching team in an early childhood centre can also be looked upon as a marketing tool when families visit centres with male teachers which I'm sure will generally be looked upon in a positive light.
As part of an effort to demonstrate that early childhood education is not just babysitting which is often perceived by men as a woman's role, I started these musings to reflect on what we do as teachers in this profession to try and encourage more men to look at this profession as a career choice. To offer a quality education system for young children I firmly believe that all teachers need to be fully qualified through an educational institution to analyse, document, and reflect on children's learning and development. This can only be done after study, just as a lawyer studies to be a lawyer, and a doctor a doctor. In my mind there is no doubt that we need more men as early childhood teachers to bridge the gender gap. This can only happen if the profession is made to look attractive in terms of job satisfaction, salary, postive social recognition of male role models for children, and a warm welcome by women who dominate the workforce in ECE. Gender balance not only benefits children with the presence of male teachers in the mix, but also offers different perspectives for the teaching team as a whole.
Francis Wardle, Ph.D. Men in Early Childhood: Fathers & Teachers.
Peter Reynolds. Early Childhood Council.
Sarah E Farquhar. (2012). Time for Men to be Invited into Early Childhood Teaching. The Findings of a National Survey of Early Childhood Education Services and Teacher Educators. ChildForum Early Childhood Network: New Zealand.