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Men in ECE

One of my first posts was about how we really could do with more men working in early childhood education.

There is a list doing the rounds at the moment of men who blog on early childhood. Alec of Child’s Play Music posted his version here.

It is a good list.  Good bloggers.  Interesting men doing interesting work. Good on them.

That list is not long – 15 or 16.  But mine is shorter, because I am only  listing the ones who work in preschool education now. I have left out the primary school teachers; and the men who build things, or direct things; the ones who have consultancies or opinions.

I have taken some links from Greg’s post, and cut his list down. This is an even shorter list* of blogging blokes who, as recently as last week, earnt their crust at the playdough-face of direct early childhood care:

Tom Hobson: Teacher Tom
Scott Wiley: Brick By Brick
tomsensory: Sand and Water Tables
Sergio Pascucci: Crayons, Wands and Building Blocks
and Greg Harvey himself: Males in Early Childhood
and there is also akoanarky 

and perhaps Jeff Johnson at Explorations Early Learning also qualifies, since he seems to still be involved in Family Day Care.

Not that I don’t respect the men who care enough about children to think deeply and write about early education, in whatever capacity.  But I particularly want to recognise the men who actively work as educators of young children, on the same wages and conditions as the 98% of women in the industry.

This very short list of bloggers represent them.

*As far as I know.  If I have misread a blog, or anyone knows of a missing link, I’d love to update this.

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Trickle down effect

I am loving water walls at the moment.  I’m not sure where the idea originated, but it is certainly spreading and I keep seeing different versions here and there.

I have an additional reason to love this one.

The proud educator who supplied this picture mentioned her husband had made it. With the usual thrifty approach of early childhood educators, the frame was whipped up out of a $30 piece of wire mesh and some spare timber from the garage.

I have written about the issue of the shortage of men in early childhood education.  This time I want to acknowledge the valuable contribution often made by men in this way.

Our kindergarten working bees are often well attended by fathers who come in with their tools, and their skills and their male strength and energy to rebuild, maintain and repair the building, furniture and grounds.

One of the great strengths of Family Day Care is that it is often a shared enterprise between a couple. The men who provide direct care in FDC may be few in number.  But the men who help to make their home into a wonderful place for children are more numerous, often unsung by all but their grateful wives, and almost certainly paid less for their efforts than even the lowest paid childcare worker.

We recognise that early childhood education is not just about direct care, and not just about teaching. It is also, centrally, about facilitating learning.  It is about designing activities and environments in which children are drawn into learning. Building the spaces and equipment for children to use is an important part of this.

Men who build water walls are contributing a lot to early childhood education. And many of them are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.

Thanks guys.

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.