For two months I’ve been putting off writing a blogpost on Men in Early Childhood Education (ECE). I spoke to other male coworkers in the field of ECE in preparation for this assignment, prepared notes from my conversations, and racked my brain trying to come up with a focus for a blog on “Men in ECE”. I still have no answers, but I do have a question: Why are men in ECE important? Or, better yet, why do we celebrate men who work with children?
At the beginning of the first all-staff meeting that I attended at Clayton, a standing ovation was given to all the males present in the room, for working in ECE. At the time I was proud, but as I started to unpeel the layers, like an onion, of what I thought it meant to be a male educator, I quickly realized how many stereotypes of the gender-job role were, well, stereotypes. As an organizational effort to embrace diversity in all forms, one of the most persistent stereotypes is the male teacher.
The assumptions of male teachers typically flow within the realms of communication, classroom management, and affect. “Strong leadership”, “firm discipline”, “stern tone”, “strong presence” are some of the terms I’ve heard people use to describe men in the ECE field. “Father figure” gets thrown around too, but what I imagine when I hear those words is a totalitarian dictator, not the educator of my 3 year old child. I believe most people are misinformed about what men in ECE really look like.
I recently had coffee with Soren Gall, the Infant, Toddler & Family Specialist at the Denver Early Childhood Council, to discuss what has become this blogpost. Two years ago, the two of us met to talk about this same topic, as Soren was gathering information from various men in the Denver area who work in early childhood education. Upon meeting this second time, we reopened the conversation. I had my notepad ready with a list of questions I had prepared for the interview. Soren wrote a Clayton blogpost on men in ECE a few years ago while completing his capstone as a Buell Fellow. The article highlighted male communication styles. As the conversation progressed, my list of questions grew. Who are these men in ECE? Why do they choose ECE as a career? Why are they so sought after by employers?
Soren and I came to a few conclusions. As male teachers, it’s a vital point to avoid common stereotypes that prevail in our own minds and through the image portrayed by the media. Men in ECE are a diverse group of individuals that come from a variety of backgrounds and bring with them a range of perspectives and approaches in and outside of their classrooms. In order to break down common generalizations, it is important to see male teachers as this diverse group. However, men in the field do have some similarities. They enjoy working with young children and are passionate about participating in their development and learning. Men in ECE understand their role in the social/emotional development of young children as secondary caregivers. Also, classrooms with both men and women educators provide young students with a model of communication and interaction that balances and celebrates the full range of human interaction.
My inquiry is still unsolved. Why do we as educators, parents, and school administration laud and praise the male ECE educator? What is so special about this demographic? How do we assess and answer this question, leaving aside the stereotypes of men working with young children, generalizations and assumptions about parents, and media portrayals of men?
In an effort to support further reflection and research on this topic, we have created the following survey to gather your feedback on men in ECE. Please follow the link below (or click here) and take a few minutes to fill out the survey. Your answers will help inform the conversation and drive the discussion around the upcoming “Men in ECE” blog series here at Clayton. Your participation is greatly appreciated!