A recent article from BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13600611 talks about how male role models, whether they be celebrities, sportsmen, educators or relatives have less of an influence on children then peers do. I believe that an effective teacher can empower children to make choices, develop skills, acquire knowledge, make discoveries, learn from mistakes, challenge themselves, take risks, hypothesize, solve problems & develop relationships with those around them. This is done in numerous ways, not least of all, by providing opportunities for the above to take place in meaningful & authentic physical & social environments.
However, educators also teach by example. Young children often learn by what they see happening around them, so if they see a male teacher comforting a peer, dressing a doll, cooking in home corner or dressing up, it can as powerful as them seeing a female teacher working with constructing, playing with cars & trucks, or engaging in rough & tumble play. These scenarios provide examples where children can witness people engaging in experiences that would traditionally be seen as less than usual for their gender. It is also not only for boys that men can be a positive influence. Girls too can benefit from engaging with men outside of the family.
Yet, my biggest problem with the essence of this article is that it suggests that to be a role model for boys is the only reason the call for more men exists. While it's true that these are qualities that we seek in all teachers, not just men, there is much more to it. How can the early childhood sector, or even individual services, claim to be representative of or connected to their communities/society when there are so few men present. At the moment in many services, children attend each & every day & only encounter females. If nothing else, encouraging more men into childcare would lead to a more accurate representation of the real world.
I am only one man, but I am the first at my centre I am aware of & almost all of my females colleagues over the years have declared that I am the first guy they have worked with. Children can benefit from males being a significant presence in their lives. Equally, blokes can benefit from the love & joy that children are usually more than willing to share with their carers. Personally, I believe I get so much more from the children then they will ever get from me.
Finally, I see children as individuals, not boys & girls. therefore any influence I have is not centred around their gender. Therefore, if a boy needs some assistance or guidance I will provide that, just if it was a girl. If we target boys because they are boys, even though they do learn & develop differently, then how can we claim to be treating all children equitably? After all, even boys are different from one another so how can we generalise?