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.