More men, please

I’d like to see more men working in early childhood education.

Men in this overwhelmingly female industry face the same sorts of prejudice and undermining as pioneering women have experienced breaking into male dominated industries. As far as I know, there are no formal systemic barriers to male participation. By this I mean, there are not actual rules against males doing this work, and we don’t appear to have a significant problem of males applying for jobs and getting passed over. But there are clearly things that stop males from doing the job.

I have an idea to try to address one small part of this problem.

Becoming a kindergarten teacher in Victoria requires 4-5 years of tertiary education. This is the highest paid job for early childhood educators, and it is on the way to gaining parity with primary teachers, although the career path is more limited. However, there are other jobs in the industry that have lower level qualifications. Most tertiary students in Victoria work part-time. In fact, after school care is one area that often attracts students.

Perhaps we could attract some male students into working in early childhood settings part-time during their student years? Early childhood lends itself to part-time work more readily than schools.

I can immediately see problems. We would be asking people to overcome their prejudices not just about men and children, but also their prejudices about youth. It is easy to imagine young men being great playmates. But I do not find it so easy to imagine them cleaning the toilets, or noticing when a child has a fever.

The reality of early childhood education is that we rely on a massive informal qualification program called ‘motherhood’ to provide a lot of the skills we draw on. In my workplace, educators work in pairs. The university educated teacher may sometimes be a young woman with more theoretical than practical knowledge of children. But the assistant – who until recently did not need any formal qualifications – is pretty much always a mother: someone who has had kids of her own, who has had them attend kinder, and has learnt how to be pretty efficient at tidying up after kids and keeping a place hygienic.

I have to admit, as a teacher myself, I would be reluctant to entrust the important clean-and-tidy component of my assistant’s job to a young man. Or to a young woman, for that matter, which I suppose rescues me from being totally sexist, but still leaves me obviously prejudiced. I will just go and wash out my mouth with soap now.

But if we want more men in early childhood education – and I do – then we have to confront and challenge our prejudices.

Over the next couple of years, we have to move to lower educator-child ratios. In some cases, instead of reducing the number of children in the group, centres may opt to add a third educator. Perhaps, where this is the case, we can target this as a good job for a man.

And we can work on sharing the cleaning more equally.

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5 responses to “More men, please”

  1. Greg says :

    Teacher Tom wrote a wonderful blog about challenging our prejudices: http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/when-im-sexist.html
    I likw your idea of inviting males to fulfill the third carer’s role, but the difficulty is making it attractive enough. I think there is enough support from early childhood professionals &, to a lesser extent, families. However, it’s the fear of accusations, the low wages & status when many men are primary monety earners for their families, & the percepption by some that it’s still women’s work to care for young children.

    Congrastulations on a brave & honest post. 🙂

    • goccediacqua says :

      Thanks for reading and replying. I agree that preschool education is paid as if the people doing it have someone else to support them. This makes it harder for men to contemplate as a career. It is precisely because of this that I started thinking about involving young men at a stage of their lives when a part-time wage is acceptable, when they are students.
      This does not solve the problem of how to make it a viable long-term career. But perhaps if we can get more men working in early childhood, in any capacity, we can start to overcome some of the isolation and strangeness factor, and demonstrate that men can be good care-givers.

  2. Kierna says :

    Hi, thanks for a thoughtful article. I would love to see more men in early years but we even have trouble getting men into teaching at primary level let alone with the little ones. I have been lucky to visit Sweden & Norway & work with men in kindergartens and have had 2 Swedish male childcare students work in my setting. keep plugging away & hopefully more men will realise it is a wonderful worthwhile job, Kierna

  3. Alec Duncan says :

    My impression, as a male ex-child care worker (qualified, with a degree in Children Studies, and still working in the early childhood field through my business Child’s Play Music) is that there are less men in early childhood now than there were 20 years ago.

    I go to many, many child care centres and K-3 classes here in Perth and in the last five years I can only think of three men I’ve met working in the field. Yet 20 years ago I worked in a large child care centre where I was one of 3 males, and I knew of lots of others at other centres. I suspect that one of the reasons for the dearth of men is the ever-increasing societal hysteria about child abuse and (as Greg says) the fear of unjustified accusation.

    As a man it’s impossible not to feel that one is being scrutinised all the time, in a way that women are not. I had one child withdrawn from my group by his parents simply because I was a male. Yet this was a rarity – most parents were fine with it, and many said how happy they were to have a male caregiver.

    Coupled with the appallingly low wages and status child care is simply not a hugely attractive field for most men; while the pay is better in schools it’s still not great, and it is still perceived as low status. Yet, speaking from experience I would say working in child care/ECE is one of the most fulfilling careers possible, and I always had huge support from my female co-workers who made me welcome and were happy to have men working with them.

    I would love to see more men in the field but I’m not holding my breath. Until these issues are addressed I doubt if we will see much change. Note that I’m not saying salaries should be increased so as to attract more men: I’m saying salaries should be increased because they are ludicrously low given the importance of the work and the heavy responsibilities that the job entails, whether for women or for men.

    Alec

    • goccediacqua says :

      Thanks for your response Alec. You confirm my impressions. I agree that it is going to be hard to make early childhood an attractive career option for men. Wages are going up in Victoria at the moment, so at least we will have parity with primary and may not lose all dual qualified teachers to the primary sector.
      My suggestion is aimed at trying to increase the numbers of men in the environment by picking up some who have not chosen it for a long term career, but are prepared to work in it for a while. If we can find ways to have more men present in centres, this may help combat the silly fear reaction from people who find it strange, and provide some support for those men who might consider it as a career.

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