In The Land Of Women: Being a Man in Early Childhood Education


teddy cut

About 5 years ago a movie starring Kristen Stewart, Adam Brody, and Meg Ryan came out called “In The Land of Women.” I have only seen a few parts of it while flipping through channels on cable, but the title of the movie has always stuck with me. Five days a week, I wake up and head to my main job as a Pre-K teacher at a non-profit Early Childhood Education Center in Boston where I am the only male out of the 20 or so employees. (In the past 10 years, there have been a couple of other men who have worked there). After I leave that job, I head to my secondary job teaching Early Childhood Education classes at a couple local colleges. I have taught four total college courses so far and have had only one male student. My experience is not atypical; most of the research I have seen puts the number of male teachers in the ECE field at 5% or lower. To put it another way, to be a man in ECE is to be a man in the land of women. In the following paragraphs, I want to discuss why I think there are so few men in ECE, my experiences in the field, and give some words of encouragement to men who might be interested in entering the field.

Unfortunately, I believe if a boy or even a grown man told his other male peers that he wanted to work as a preschool teacher or even more so with younger children like toddlers and infants, he might hear something to the effect of “dude, that’s so gay” (the use of “gay” as an insult is obviously horrible as is the idea that there would be something wrong if a gay man worked in ECE ). There is an even worse societal stereotype that men who want to work with young children are perverts, exacerbated by the priest abuse scandal. The specter of being thought of as being gay or unmanly or a pervert no doubt drives huge swaths of men away from the field, and I fully admit it was one of the things that I had to get over before sticking with ECE as a career. Additionally, there is the just general “ick factor” that most likely is stronger in men regarding the possibility of changing diapers which was a huge factor in me focusing on older Preschoolers and Pre-K in my career vs. working with infants and toddlers. Low pay is another key driver. Though things are changing regarding the patriarchal notion that men are the “bread winners”, that view still exists and most men do not want to be in a field where there is little hope for high pay.

At this point, you may be wondering why I ended up in ECE. I wish I could tell you it was a natural calling that I had been planning since I was young, but I did it on a whim. Upon finishing high school, I was directionless with limited options, since my academic career was less than stellar. I had done some work at summer camps and as a babysitter and just checked off “Early Childhood Education” as my preferred major on my applications since it seemed like it would be the least boring out of all the possible options. I was still not completely sold on ECE as my major until I had my first Internship in a Pre-K classroom. I still vividly remember my first day of my internship when we went outside for outdoor play. I found one of those small  Hutch Footballs  on the ground and did what for me was the reflexive reaction to finding a  Hutch Football  – throwing it as high up in the air as a possibly and catching it. The second I did this, half of the children in the class started yelling for me to throw it up high again. This soon turned into games of both catch and “punt return” with the children. At the end of the day, I did not know if ECE was going to be my life long career, but I did know that the prospect of getting paid to spend time outside throwing a ball around seemed awesome.

I have been working in ECE for about 10 years now mostly with 4 and 5 year olds and am happy to report it has been awesome. In that time, I have learned that being in ECE is a lot more than just throwing a ball around. When reading books, I get to pretend to be Mo Williams “Pigeon” or Joe Scieszka “Wolf.” I get to turn bowling into a counting and addition math activity. I get to make volcanoes explode. I get to build towers with legos and blocks. I get to roar like a dinosaur. I get to try to build giant snowmen and forts. I get to braid hair.

Actually, that last one was a lie; I have never braided anyone’s hair while working in ECE, nor do I have the slightest idea how to braid hair. I have seen many of my female teachers teach girls how to braid hair, but I don’t see them playing football with the children nearly as often as I do, or the few other men who I have known in the ECE field. I don’t say that to disparage any of my female coworkers or to say football is more valuable than braiding hair (one teaches fine motor skills while the other teaches gross motor). In addition, I have no idea if the differences I see between men in women in the field are due to genetic or environmental factors. From my anecdotal evidence, men and women on average seem to interact with children differently, and children respond to them differently. This means men might be able to provide children with important experiences that they are currently missing out on.

I want to encourage any man who is considering going into the ECE field to go for it. Not only will you will be able to race toy cars, throw balls around, and build block towers, but you could have a truly positive impact on a young child’s life, particularly on a child who does not have any male role models. Working in ECE is about both nurturing  and  educating children. Having a man in the class giving children hugs, helping put band aids on booboos, and just being a nurturing figure can hopefully show boys and girls that caring about others is part of what it means to be a man. I was lucky because even though I was raised by a single mom, I had an older brother, uncles, and my good friend’s dad, who all serve as positive male role models in my life.

Moreover, I am happy to report in my experience that despite the possible negative stereotypes I discussed earlier, the vast majority of co-workers, parents, and directors I have met in the field are extremely happy to see a male in the field. You may actually be more likely to get a job if you are a qualified man.

Teddy has worked for over 8 years  as a Pre-K Teacher at the non-profit Transportation Children Center in Boston.  he also works as an adjunct professor  in the Early Childhood Education Departments of Fisher College and Bay State College. He got his Master’s in Education from The Harvard Graduate School of Education with a concentration in Language and Literacy, a Bachelor’s degree from UMass Boston in Sociology, and an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Bay State College. You most likely will find him biking along the Charles River or talking about the Red Sox.

Comments

Thank you for writing this and sharing your experiences. As a women in early childhood I have tried to encourage male friends, acquaintances to be part of early education. It is a challenge. I too did my practicum and worked one summer at the Transportation Children’s Center during my time at Wheelock. I am pleased to see you as a wonderful example for young men who consider early childhood or education in general.
Best wishes.
Gillian

Posted @ Wednesday, December 19, 2012 9:55 PM by Gillian Budine

Thanks Gabbie. I actually had a male student do an internship in my class this past semester (my one male college student) and TCC will have another from Northeastern in the spring so it looks like things might slowly be changing. What year did you work at TCC?

Posted @ Thursday, December 20, 2012 8:41 AM by Teddy Kokoros

Hello,I am glad to read this article. I am also a male preschool teacher. This is my fourth year.

Posted @ Thursday, December 20, 2012 6:00 PM by Franklin Mays

I am ecstatic to find a man interacting with children at any level of the school system! So many children now have no father at home, no male role models except for the jerks on tv, movies, and music videos (shudder). Thank you for your commitment! btw, I read this article after the wonderful man who used to teach my children linked to it on FB.

Posted @ Thursday, December 27, 2012 1:08 PM by Christymomof3

I have been quite fortunate to have male Educators in my centers over the years. However, the proportion to women is certainly very small, 5% male vs, 95% female. Unfortunately, the two main challenges to recruiting and retaining quality male Educators in early childhood is that so many parents are wary of males having a presence–especially alone–with their infants/toddlers/preschoolers, plus, men are still more apt to be drawn to and expected to have higher paying jobs with good benefits. Both of these challenges are getting better, however, the rate of increasing acceptance is very slow. THANK YOU to parents who feel blessed to have positive male role models as early childhood Educators!

Posted @ Saturday, December 29, 2012 8:49 PM by Early Childhood Educators ROCK!

Thanks for sharing your perspective! I hope you will inspire many more males to enter the field, especially with younger children. We need more male teachers in (early: birth-5)early childhood. There are usually a few male teachers at the elementary level, but so very few that work with younger students.Have you met Greg from “Males In Early Childhood” (http://malesinearlychildhood.blogspot.com/) yet? He’a an early childhood teacher/blogger from Australia.Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing your experience!

Posted @ Tuesday, January 01, 2013 8:23 PM by ayn

Thanks and I have not met Greg or seen his blog before but I am definitely going to check it out.

Posted @ Wednesday, January 02, 2013 10:37 AM by Teddy Kokoros

Hi, great post! In our school of over 40 staff we have 1 male teacher, 1 part-time job share male caretaker & a temp male classroom assistant. I totally agree on why many men don’t even consider early years & can see why they have more young men in Scandinavia because of their more outdoor approach. But as a woman I’ve never braided anyone’s hair in my 13 years of teaching 3-4 years!! I also fell into teaching this age group when temping & getting that ‘can I get paid to do this’ feeling, Kierna

Posted @ Saturday, January 05, 2013 9:14 AM by Kierna Corr

Reading this brilliant article made my heart sing. It mirrors my own beliefs, thoughts and values precisely, I am just never able to fully articulate them as comprehensively and as clearly as you have. I’m a 24 year old male working in an early childhood centre and despite most of my colleagues being totally supportive and appreciative of having a man around, I still do feel isolated and alienated at times. I still love my job more than anything in the world though, it is so, so rewarding and fulfilling. Children see life the way it should be seen, and often they teach us more than we teach them. Thank you Theodore for writing this great article, I just love reading accounts from guys like me that work in this industry. Reminds me that I’m not alone!

Posted @ Saturday, January 05, 2013 9:31 AM by James

Thanks for sharing your story and experiences, it’s great to hear and hopefully other guys will find this supportive. If you ever need anything be sure to give us a shout- www.facebook.com/meninchildcare , keep up the good work, Mick

Posted @ Saturday, January 05, 2013 10:30 AM by Mick Kenny

Kierna: Good point about the not braiding hair; I did not want to imply that all women or men in Early Childhood Education act a certain way or engage in different activities; I made some anecdotal generalizations to kind of highlight the point I was trying to make, but there are obviously huge individual differences in each individual women or man’s teaching styleJames: Thanks for the kind words and keep up your good work.Mick: thanks for the link; I just made sure to “like” your page on FB to get updates from you guys

Posted @ Sunday, January 06, 2013 7:39 PM by Teddy Kokoros

Hey Teddy (great name for an ECE worker!); thanks for reminding me about all the good things I love about being a guy in ECE. I have taught for 4 years now in a Steiner kinder here in New Zealand.
Cheers!

Posted @ Monday, January 14, 2013 2:07 PM by Nicholas Duval-Smith

In case you are not already familiar with his blog, Teacher Tom in Seattle is AWESOME!http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/

Posted @ Friday, July 26, 2013 9:19 AM by Christine Natale

Hello Teddy!I am a Waldorf EC teacher of many years experience. I had one year with a young man as my “assistant” and it was great. I think that the young children benefit greatly from having both the male and female archetypes and archetypal “jobs” around them. Here is a link to an article that I wrote on “Waldorf Dads” that speaks about these archetypes versus stereotypes. In our abstract and automated age, I believe that it is essential to give the young child at least a year or two experience of the ancient tasks that the human being carried out for millennia. Of course, both boys and girls in our schools do all “jobs” and learn all skills – boys cook, sew, knit and girls build, garden and fight dragons! But the ancient “mother” and “father” archetypes belong to the spiritual and psychological world of the fairy tales and the children benefit greatly from experiencing living expressions of them.Bless you and thank you for your wonderful work in this field!

(http://thewonderofchildhood.com/2011/06/waldorf-dads/)

Posted @ Friday, July 26, 2013 9:45 AM by Christine Natale

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