Teacher Gender and Male Teachers


We believe men and women must both be equally represented in all ECE services for children.


On this page you will find a range of information that supports our position 

  1. National survey on the involvement of men in ECE
  2. Why would any man want to work in ECE? 
  3. Why do we need men to be involved in ECE?
  4. Overcoming barriers to men entering childcare
  5. Invitation Awards
  6. Advice for encouraging teenage boys to give working in ECE a try
  7. Men's stories
  8. Why the concern about the low number of men in ECE when its not gender that matters but teacher quality and the quality of the teacher’s work?
  9. Why do people still think of early childhood teaching as a women's job?  Why do people still see early childhood teachers as babysitters - and not as teachers?
  10. Political unwillingness to take action


1. National survey on the involvement of men in ECE

A national survey add link showed strong support for more men to be involved in early childhood teaching and for initiatives to be implemented to help this to happen. 

The 2012 survey revealed that it was believed that better representation of men in teaching would:

  • be of benefit to children’s learning and social development,
  • raise quality within the sector in various ways including improving staff dynamics by having a mixed gender team, and
  • help Dads feel more comfortable staying with their child and participating in the ECE programme.


2. Why would any man want to work in ECE? 

Men are not all the same. No man benefits from having a single form of ‘masculinity’ (of what it is to be a ‘man’) expected of them.  Trying to live up to a single 'masculine norm' can be demeaning of the interests of different men and of them as individuals. 

Dr Alexander reports that in her research she has found that many of the men who take up early childhood teaching come to it, not as a first career choice, but after working for years at a job they find unsatisfying to them and where they could not make use of their interests and talents. 

There are negative consequences for boys and men of not making open to them a full range of occupations and allowing the female connotation to early childhood work to remain. 

Continuing occupational segregation and biasing ECE to being a female job hurts women also.


3. Why do we need men to be involved in childcare and early education?

According to Dr Sarah Alexander, perhaps one of the main reasons is that the profession should represent society – and society has men as well as women.  For men to be absent or not employed in childcare and early education services sends out a message that only women can care for, educate and be responsible for children. 

In addition, Dr Alexander argues that gender sensitivity is an issue that fundamentally affects the quality of ECE for children. 

men are needed for gender as well as skills in teaching young childrenA variety of research and professional literature points to a range of benefits for children of men working in childcare/early education:

  • The involvement of men in early childhood programmes can lead to an increase in the range and variety of activities and conversation for girls and create a more “boy-friendly” environment.
  • The presence of men can lead to a questioning of practices by the teaching team and management, and inspire a diversity of approaches.
  • There are often certain ways that men care for children that are different from the way women care for children. For example, many men have a greater tolerance of ‘rough and tumble’ and active play.
  • The involvement of men allows girls and boys to observe that men can participate in the care of children and do domestic duties (e.g. cuddle and comfort children, wipe tables and change nappies).
  • The presence of a man (men) can help fathers to feel more comfortable and willing to get involved in the early childhood programme.


Thank you to TVNZ for allowing us to share the following 2006 documentary with you. 


4. Overcoming barriers to men entering childcare

The need for a strategic approach and management commitment
Getting men to work in your (and other) ECE settings is unlikely to happen without a specific strategy and management commitment. add link

Part of the strategy must be to enable staff teams to have time and space to talk honestly in a no-blame way about gender issues, fears and biases, as part of the process of moving forward. 

Recognising there is parental support rather than opposition
An argument often used against employing men in childcare is that ‘parents will be against it’.  But this is usually only a small minority - 2 to 4%.  Because parents often rely on ECE economically, if they were to remove their children from settings whose policies or practices they do not approve of they could end up with no ECE.   


5. Invitation Awards

Men are more likely to enter early childhood teaching if we welcome them. The cost of training for a recognised qualification in early childhood education can be a barrier.

The Invitation Award offered by us welcomes men into the profession and supports men who are undertaking formal training for an ECE qualification recognised by the Teaching Council for teacher certification.   add link


6.  Advice for encouraging teenage boys to give working in ECE a try  

Dr Alexander has provided advice for encouraging teenage boys to consider ECE as a career option.

She says that there are young men who would like to work with young children but they think or are told that it is not job that is suitable for men and so they choose a different occupation.

There are also a lot of young men who need exposure to young children if they are to discover that working with children can be very rewarding - the challenge is to help young men discover they can have a connection with children in the first place

Most early childhood centres are delighted when approached by their local high school to have students visit. Centres can see this as an opportunity to inspire students to consider ECE teaching as a career and even identify potential staff for on-the-job training when they complete high school.

What can schools and career guidance counsellors do to help?

Getting male students interested could very likely be your hardest task, and those boys who are interested may 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.  Here is what has been found to help:

  • 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 – e.g. from working with kids who may 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 (e.g. measurement) to children in sand pit play.
  • Arrange for 2 or 3 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. 

Ensure that all boys in a class have the experience of visiting a centre and doing activities with young children or you may find that the boys who don’t have this experience will treat those who do as ‘special’ and denigrate them as being not masculine or  as ‘girls’ or ‘homos’ .  Be sure to talk to the boys both before and after their visits about their expectations and experiences.

As part of organising work placements talk to the centre manager or person-in-charge about the importance of support for the male student and ensure that the student has a mentor (if it cannot be you) to support him.

What can ECE services do?

Make the students feel welcome and included.

Ensure students are not left feeling uncertain as to what to do. Set concrete tasks or give students ideas for what they might do e.g. help the children make puppets.


7. Men's Stories

men in ECE grant winner Joshua Mckay

For Joshua McKay, working in early childhood education is something of a family occupation. His wife Sarah is an ECE teacher.

Joshua says his interactions with his two young boys encouraged him to train to work with children.

“Not only do I want the best for our boys but I just enjoy spending time with them and doing great things together like building our mega tree-house in the back yard,” he says.

“They just love this interaction so much that it makes sense for me to work with other children and maybe encourage others to do the same”.

  • GO TO MORE STORIES  add link



8. Why the concern about the low number of men in ECE when its not gender that matters but teacher quality and the quality of the teacher’s work?

Having men working alongside women in work that involves ‘care’ and ‘young children’ can help to bring about changes in gender roles both in the workforce and in family life. 

In the early years children are forming their gender identity and understanding of gender roles. The gender stereotypes that boys and girls internalise from a young age shape their preferences for what they like to do and how they like to spend their time. For this reason it is more important to have men involved in the lives of young children than at any other stage (e.g. secondary and tertiary education).

If children grow up in a world that is characterised by women doing the care work and men doing other work, this can have an influence on how they view themselves and what future role choices they view as open to them. Involving men in early childcare education work is a way of not reproducing gender stereotypes and a gender-based division of labour.

In regard to employing men at any cost - this is not advocated. There is consensus that standards should not be lowered for men entering the profession. Employers are expected to apply the same criteria for appointment to a man as to a woman.  

However, currently the numbers of men recruited into training and being employed in ECE service is very low. Early childhood teaching needs to be promoted as a profession that is attractive to men and welcoming of men so more men will make themselves available for working in ECE.


9. What's in a name?  Why people still think of early childhood teaching as a women's job

In Australia a politician said:   

A lot of women, mostly women, used to look after kids in childcare centres. And then they brought in this national quality framework and they had to go and get a Certificate III in childcare in order to continue the job they were doing — you know, wiping noses and stopping the kids from killing each other.
A lot of women just quit. The ones who got certificate threes said, ‘OK, I want more pay now that I’m more qualified’. All we did was drive up the cost because of this credentialism. (Senator David Leyonhjelm interview on TV show The Project, Jan 2017).

Which no doubt reflects the views of some of our NZ political leaders and administrators - except they don't put it into words as Senator Leyonhjelm did. Read more about sexism in the NZ Ministry of Education's administration of ECE - in an opinion article published on the Stuff news website

In the past in NZ it was only women who served passengers on planes – they were called air hostesses. A change in terminology to 'cabin crew' has seen the occupation open up to include diverse people (gender, age, and race) and the 'trolley dolly' image has been shaken.  Changes in image have also come about through changes in titles in some other occupations – for example, 'secretaries' have become valued for their skills now as 'personal assistants' (PAs).

Early childhood teaching will continue to be seen as a women's job as long as we don't the address the question of language.  The common use of titles other than "teacher" for qualified ECE teachers does not help, e.g. kaiako ("kaiako" covers people in teaching roles without formal qualifications), childcare worker,  educator, and caregiver. 


10. Political Unwillingness to take Action

In 2013 Dr Alexander wrote to the Education Minister explaining why it is important for men to be represented in early childhood teaching work and asking the minister what actions Government may be planning to put into place to address this. See copies of the correspondence below. 

Political un-willingness to act address gender imbalance in the ECE workforce is no different in 2021 than it was back in 2013. 

12 June 2013

Hon Hekia Parata
Minister for Education 
Parliament Buildings
Wellington, 6160

Tēnā koe Minister Parata

I am writing to enquire if you have been advised of the continuing problem of gender inequality in the early childhood education workforce and what the NZ Government and you, as Minister of Education, are putting in place to address this. 

Recently I was invited as a representative from NZ to travel to Germany to share what we are doing in NZ in regard to supporting men in teaching and to participate in the International Conference on Men in Early Childhood Education.  It was exciting to see first-hand some of the initiatives and changes that are resulting from the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth providing 30 million Euros to address the problem of boys' underachievement and fund gender equity initiatives in early years education. However, it is shameful internationally that NZ has only 2% males in our early education workforce, as compared to for example, Norway which has 8%, USA 5.5%, Scotland 10%, and Australia 5.6% male teachers. 

Unlike many other countries that are now working to raise male participation in early years teaching, there is no gender policy in early education in NZ.  Seven years ago ChildForum organised a national summit on Men in ECE and shortly later a national association was formed called EC-Menz which is successfully helping with retention by supporting men to feel valued in their role and by reducing the isolation that men working in the sector experience.  

Inspired by what I learnt from international representatives at the Germany-based conference, I have introduced the potential for scholarships and grants to be offered to help with recruitment by showing men that males are welcomed.  The idea of gender-based scholarships for men has been positively received – however, money is needed to support this and jobs need to be available for men when they come out of teacher training.  There needs to be an incentive for ECE teacher educators and employers to recruit and employ men – such as a requirement to meet government set targets for percentages of male student teachers and ECE teachers.

The lack of men in the NZ early education workforce is a serious issue for children’s learning outcomes and socialisation.  International research shows that attendance in early childhood education benefits the academic achievement of children at school who come from low socio-economic and learning disadvantaged home-backgrounds.  However, in research that has looked separately at the effects on boys and girls, the effects on boys’ test scores of participation in early childhood education are generally not significantly different from zero.  Research has shown that men, like women, can teach effectively.  It is important for children to have both male and female teachers, particularly in the early years when children are developing their sense of gender identity and forming attitudes and dispositions toward learning.

Women’s achievement of equality in the labour market and pay equity is restricted by the over-representation of women in this large occupational group, and  which today still has a very strong stereotype of being ‘women’s work’.    

It limits the career choices of male youth who are interested in working with young children and would like to be involved in children’s early education and care. 

Please find attached a copy of a new report of a national survey of early childhood service operators and educators views on including men (or not) in the early education workforce.  The results show that the sector would like to see more men in ECE.  Not only was it believed that more men in the sector would bring a range of benefits for children, but it could also lift the overall quality of teaching by introducing gender diversity, improve staff dynamics and encourage fathers to become more involved with their child’s education. 

A more diverse workforce, with men represented as well as women, is seen as being necessary to expand the quality of early childhood education for children and bring different viewpoints and ways of working to the ECE profession and the sector.        

The survey results present a clear message that leadership by the Minister of Education and the NZ Government is wanted and is seen to be necessary.  Gender equality in early education should be on the policy agenda and the sector would be very pleased to see Government showing a strong commitment to this.  Moreover,  respondents felt that a more pro-active approach is needed to change the stereotype of early education as being work suited to women only,  in the way that traditional male occupations have been challenged to accept women such as in Parliament and in professions such as law and medicine.

At a time when the ECE sector is generally feeling that Government does not care about it and that things for the sector are likely to keep worsening it would be politically positive to present the sector with news that Government is committed to recognising the importance of gender diversity and will be developing strategies to support improvement.

I look forward to hearing from you as to whether as Minister of Education you will be taking action on this issue and what strategies are going to be put into place?  And, what the funding commitment likely will be?

Nāku noa, nā  

Dr Sarah Alexander 
Chief Executive 

edn minister reply on men in ECE

Responses received from our members included:

  • The minister is (not) on top of her game - someone surely just cut and pasted pieces in this reply as it doesn't really have any coherence re the issue that was raised. The minster is only able to focus on one aspect of her role as minister with the SELO taking up all her focus in ece and whilst this is happening she is not able to consider any other issue. I am not surprised re this as the Minister of Education has been found wanting on many other issues and this is further evidence of her inability to lead. A brilliant example of political ineptness when she has no knowledge and displays it by not even addressing any of the points raised...but focussed solely on her governments small steps.
  • In reality this is a waste of time. Given my experiences working in ECE, the inequitable perception with regard women's rights in working in traditional male' environments and men in ECE is a societal habitus. There isn't just an anti-male agenda in this country, with regard men working in ECE there is a general biased overview with regard male characteristics functions aspirations in this country. This is never going to change. Time men stood up for themselves. MEN WHERE ARE YOU? 
  • Well it's great that the Government does reply even if it was a little short. While their priorities are important to them as a Government I think from the points raised and the report, the issue of the lack of men in ECE is important to us THE PEOPLE! I wonder why they can't have more than one or two goals right now. Can't they have like twenty or thirty? 
  • There definitely is very little attention to improving ECE. Nothing much is going on in Government. Lack of money is all too real but still some initiatives to plan for future are sorely needed. Things like pay parity could be an aim. A good pay rate will attract the best qualified able and valuable people to the profession. 
  • We fund the Ministry of Women's Affairs with millions of dollars each year, it's become clear that the feminist agenda of "gender equality" was limited to improving the lives of women only. How will the boys of tomorrow fare when they can go all the way through to high school without a male teacher, see that the top scholars are girls, then find that 65% of the university graduates are young women? 


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