By TSTNZ writers
Early childhood educators backed by parents are determined to see more men enter early childhood teaching
Only 2% of early childhood educators are men, compared with a high of 2.3% in 1993 and a low of just 1% in recent years. The minimum participation should be 5%, says Dr Sarah Alexander, chief researcher at ChildForum, New Zealand’s national early childhood network. “We have let this happen because we have been too politically correct to do anything about it.”
Internationally, the percentage of early childhood educators is Norway 8%, USA 5.5%, Scotland 10% and Australia 5.6%.
Dr Alexander says its is time to try something different to bring men into early childcare and teaching and address this very serious issue for children’s care and early education. “There are some remarkable initiatives in other countries to raise the level of male participation in teaching, but gender diversity just hasn’t got onto the policy agenda in New Zealand yet.
“We see early childhood education as providing an important foundation for children’s learning, future prospects and the success of New Zealand society and yet we continue to fail to role model gender diversity and include men in children’s care and early education.”
The ChildForum survey showed most owners see it as a positive to have men on their team. In Dunedin, Russell and Sue Ballantyne have five men working at their Early Childhood on Stafford centre, including their son Thomas (21).
“I’ve always actively recruited men,” says Russell Ballantyne. “Our parents appreciate that men bring different perspectives, curriculum interests and life experiences to the teaching of their children. The kids get to see men in a caring role and men and women having fun together. That’s something they might not see at home.”
The male carers include a DJ, an ex fisherman and a former primary school principal. Thomas started out doing administration before discovering how much fun it was to work with the kids and feed babies, says Ballantyne. “He’s really enjoying the contact with the children. A lot of guys don’t appreciate how cool it is to work with young kids.”
Ballantyne says there is not enough encouragement from training providers and the Ministry of Education for school leavers to consider ECE as a career. “School guidance counsellors are not good at encouraging students into ECE. A lot of men come into ECE as a second or third career, usually after they have had their own children. Many guys don’t experience young children until they become fathers.”
Adam Buckingham has been an ECE teacher in Auckland for 12 years. He is the president of EC Menz, a group for men working in ECE. “It (ChildForum initiative) is a great step to move towards gender diversity in early childhood education. This will benefit children. As more men work in the sector, more children can experience male teachers working alongside women.”
ChildForum acknowledges that low pay has previously been a barrier, but government funding to ECE services for qualified teachers has seen pay increase to around the primary school band.
“Negative perceptions have dissipated with a new generation of parents in which dads are sharing child care responsibilities,” says Dr Alexander. “More dads drop their children off to day care and primary school but that is not filtering through to ECE.
“We want to get the message out to high school boys that ECE teaching can be a career. School guidance counsellors can play a big part in encouraging male students to spend time at ECE centres.”
Alexander offers these suggestions for teachers and people who work with teenage males:
- Male high school students who are interested might be hesitant to come forward for fear of the reaction of their peers. Introduce early childhood work as a career option gradually over several months so the students, as young men, begin to feel safer to express their interest.
- Invite a male teacher to classes to talk to the students about his career choice and his work.
- Check that information about the occupation of ECE teaching is included at career days at the school and in any information packs on careers given to students.
- Ask their class teachers at school about ways that work with children could be incorporated into the curriculum, for example, researching the first five years of children’s development could be a topic for a health studies assignment or ECE teaching could be a topic for students’ social studies assignment.
- When talking to male students about early childhood teaching, approach it as an occupation in which boys/men can be real men. Present it as technical and challenging work and talk about the range of challenges – eg. from working with kids who might have come from homes where they have experienced violence to administering first aid to a child who has fallen off a bike, and teaching early numeracy skills (eg. measurement) to children in sandpit play.
- Arrange for two to three boys at a time to visit a kindergarten and spend a morning helping out.
- Talk to centre managers and owners about further possibilities that might exist for bringing boys in, such as engaging in a special building project with children or assisting as marshals at the kids’ fundraising trike-a-thon.
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