The early childhood education profession has historically been a female-dominated field. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of meeting several male early childhood educators. I was always interested in what led them to their classrooms. The reasons varied depending on who I asked. Some stated they wanted to be a positive role model for young children, while others were drawn to teaching after becoming fathers. Most of them stated it allowed them the unique opportunity to be effective in their community by leading classrooms that are incubators of change for our future.
What’s the big deal about creating learning environments seen through the lens of a male educator? I can still remember the first time I had a male teacher. It was not until the seventh grade was I able to have an opportunity to be a part of a classroom community led by a “Mr.” instead of a “Ms.” Imagine my excitement to finally have the experience of learning and gaining new knowledge with the support and guidance of a male educator. Mr. Hilaire ignited a passion within me for the sciences and provided me with a chance to experience learning through his lens.
An article in the Teaching Young Children magazine entitled Building a Gender-Balanced Workforce: Supporting Male Teachers identified three elements that continue to hamper our efforts to create gender-balance learning environments. This includes the male presence in early childhood classrooms still stirring up suspicion in communities, the historical low pay of early childhood educators, and minimal efforts to recruit and retain highly qualified males.
The article also addressed recommendations on supporting men in the field. One of those recommendations included addressing how some segments of society viewed the presence of a male educator in the classroom. It is important to note a majority of our male educators walk into their classrooms every day with a heart of gold and ready to support the excitement learning fosters. It’s important that child care administrators use their platform to educate parents and the community on the positive impact men have on the lives of young children in early learning settings. If not, the negative societal positions that still exist will discourage men from joining or remaining in the workforce.
The low pay and minimal benefits are also factors that discourage individuals from entering the profession. This has long been acknowledged as a major issue in the early childhood field and one that our country continues to debate. Many participants interviewed for the article identified inadequate salaries and benefits as the main reason that keeps men away from the field of early childhood education.
In order to recruit individuals (especially male educators) to this profession, we must continue comprehensive discussions regarding the price tag it will take to do this. It’s plain and simple, to get more men into the early childhood field, local, state, and federal governments must think outside the box to design a system that pays early childhood educators a salary that matches their education, experience, and commitment. If not, we will continue to see a stagnated or decreased number of men entering early learning classrooms.
Let me tell you, it can be a challenge at times being the only male working in a program. Yet, in my years as an early childhood educator, I have had the privilege of working in programs with supportive supervisors and colleagues. It is easy at times to feel awkward or out of place. This is especially true if the work environment is not as inclusive as it should be when it comes to men, and does not that provide the tools, resources, and guidance needed to create a space to thrive, excel, and experience success.
As we work towards gender equity, it is important to build and sustain viable support groups for men in the field. This may include beginning as early as high school with the creation of professional organizations and clubs that focus on igniting a career interest in young men in early childhood. This can also include internships and volunteer opportunities. Imagine what we can accomplish when we build a foundation for male students to explore the many career choices in this field.
It is also just as important to provide ongoing support for male educators that are already in the field. Local and state early childhood organizations should think creatively about providing a network of support for male teachers in our classrooms. Establishing support groups allows our men a safe space to discuss the joys and challenges of being a male educator. This includes having authentic discussions on the biases that still exist, cultural resistance, career planning strategies, and networking with other males as it pertains to intersectional identities.
Male educators are an integral and essential piece of the early childhood education puzzle. This vision of a gender-balanced workforce is not an easy task. It will take high-stakes planning and resources to build our early childhood field with qualified men. This includes reimagining our strategies and resources as we provide men with a career where they can be present in the lives of young children. The advocacy work we do today will determine what our workforce in early childhood settings will look like in the future. It is time for us to get to work.
- Jerry Graham, Virginia Quality Specialist