Monday, August 22, 2011

We are Fighting Prejudice, Both Great & Small

There have been numerous studies that have identified a fear of being seen as a sexual predator as being one of the main reason why men have steered clear of a career of working with young children. See the list of articles listed under our 'Research' section for examples. As Teacher Tom pointed out in a recent blog we all have our own prejudices. It's how we deal with them when we realise they have surfaced that determine who we really are.

Unfortunately, some of these can impact greatly on the lives of others. In the case of men working with young children there are people who have preconceived ideas of how people of certain genders should behave or what they should do. I recently discovered a discussion forum in which the author questioned the appropriateness of a particular male teaching her preschool-aged daughter. Take a look and see what you make of it. Be sure to read the comments too as there are some real eye openers there. 

The author stipulates that she has a problem with this particular male and not all, but also goes on to say that she would be less concerned if it regarded her sons. While I can understand her concerns and those in some of the comments, I find it disheartening at the least to discover a mother can have greater protective feelings in regard to certain children because of their gender. If your fear is that a guy might molest your child, shouldn't you take into consideration the fact that sex offenders target boys as much as girls?

What is even more alarming to me is the common thread of those who seemingly espouse that they support having male preschool teachers, but would insist on them having a female assistant - for toileting purposes and, I assume, supervise his interactions to ensure they are appropriate. Maybe I'm reading more into it than there is. Does anyone demand a male to be present when a female assists a boy with toileting, getting dressed, etc? And what if a service was lucky enough to have 2 or more men in their employment and both staff in a room just happened to be male? Would there be a mass exodus as parents withdrew their children? I surely hope not.

In my brief time as an early childhood educator I have been witness and on the receiving end of both positive and negative attitudes. The positives have always outnumbered the negatives by an enormous margin, yet the negative attitudes remain. They remain in broader society, local communities, within cultural groups, and most stunning of all, within the profession itself. A comprehensive move needs to take place to shift the way some of these people look upon males in early childhood education. We are never going to change the minds of everyone, nor should we as they have a right to their opinion. However, if we can enlighten those within the profession and families to the benefits of having males work with young children then we are off to a good start.

As an individual I can do my bit by providing the best example I can that men can be wonderful teachers, nurturers and companions to children as they grow, learn and develop. I would also like to see a greater collaboration between fellow male early educators. The ideal behind this group is magnanimous, but at the moment it is merely a one man show. I believe we need to collaborate with governments as well as secondary and tertiary institutions to encourage more males to consider teaching as a career, especially early childhood and to support those already enrolled to see it through to graduation. There also needs to be an incentive to attract more men. As one of the few industries where men a greatly outnumbered it would not be impertinent to suggest some scholarships.

I'm sorry, I have begun on one subject and begun to rant on another. Perhaps this is a discussion for another time, but have a read of the forum post and tell me what you think. Am I over analysing or is there a systemic prejudice towards men when it come to young children's care?

13 comments:

  1. As a fellow male caregiver as well as early learning author and speaker I have to commend you for a thoughtful and brave post. I've worked directly with children of all ages for over 20 years and the vast majority of parents I've had contact with are very happy to have a guy working with their kids. In fact, in some cases our program has been sought out because the kids would have a male in their lives. ON the other hand, I have also had to deal with people inquiring about care who, upon hearing I will be part of the daily routine, hang up the phone with a "that's just wrong". As a program director, there have also been men who applied for jobs who I would not hire because it just did not feel right (the same happens with female staff).

    People bring their histories to every interaction and there is no way we will get some folks to accept, respect, or value the work we do.

    Keep up the brave posts!

    Jeff

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  2. Wonderful reflections. I've received a few nasty comments on my blog, but I have to say they are few and far between. Working in K, I don't have to deal with bathroom or dressing (except dress up, but the clothes go on over other clothes), but I always feel a little hesitancy from parents that don't know me. The way I see, the longer I do this and the more impact I make on children's lives, the more I can change people's perceptions about men in early childhood education.

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  3. I think anytime someone works outside the perceived "norm" people are hesitant or even negative. I've had people express surprise and even hesitancy when they discover that I work with young kids. Less now than in the past, but it still happens. And I think that Matt is right - the more that people see guys working with kids, the more the perceptions will change (like women in more traditionally male professions).

    Some good thoughts here, Greg. I think these issues are important to discuss.

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  4. Great post Greg, only wish we had more men in every setting.

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  5. It always makes me laugh when people have such biased concerns - when in fact most parents don't even take time to get to know the women in the care of thier child! If they trust that the centre is reputable enough to care for their child - they should have trust in ALL the caregivers regardless of gender!

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  6. Prejudice is a genuine issue that takes heart and insight to explore -- where ever it is encountered. I'm grateful for your personal insight and reflections, as we can only grow when we have leaders shining light into the dark corners. Unpleasant? Unfortunate? Unbelievable?

    Thank you for your candid & informed account. May you stay-the-course till the tide turns. Trust that the tide always, does indeed turn. May you be here to tell the newcomers the way it was in the 'olden days.'

    Debbie

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  7. Greg, just think of yourself as a "trendsetter"! I think it is wonderful to have males in leadership roles in ECE. In almost 20 years, I've never worked with a male ECE teacher. The closest I've gotten is working with a male 4th grade teacher, or a male PE teacher. I applaud you (and Matt, Scott. Tom and Jeff) for not only teaching ECE, but also for sharing your experiences with the rest of us. Just remember that when the nay-sayers offer criticism, they are the minority. I know that I, for one, think that we desperately need more males.

    I wonder if maybe another reason there are so few is that traditionally, males are the "bread-winners" in the household. Preschool teachers (in my area, at least) make $10K to $20K less that elementary teachers with the same education. I wonder if salaries for ECE teachers were a little more comparable to elementary teachers, and supporting a family on an ECE salary without a 2nd "real" income were possible, more males might be inclined to take the leap. Just a thought!
    Keep on, keeping on! :)

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  8. We NEED to change this NOW or we will NOT attract more males into the field of ECE. The sad fact is people like you and Jeff and Matt and Scott are still, as Ayn say, 'trendsetters'! it's just a fact that in 2011 women (and the prejudice usually is with women) STILL think it's a womans role to nurture children and it is going to take a lot of educating before we can honestly change peoples attitudes ... The question is HOW?
    Donna :) :)

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  9. Wow guys, I'm overwhelmed by your responses. Thank you so much for your support. It means so much to me.

    Jeff - You're right it is the minority, but that those in the minority are still present in the profession is a worry.

    Matt - I hope my actions set positive examples of how important men can be in young children's lives.

    Scott - I haven't experienced outward surprise or hesitancy, but I believe there have been occasions when behaviours toward me have been guided by a belief that I don't belong.

    Kierna - Don't we all wish that? At least all of us.

    Leeanne - Yes! The author admits these were her gut instincs about the man & many supported her saying to trust those instincs. Yet nobody suggested she should meet him & get to know what he's about or how he teaches & interacts.

    Debbie - I hope I'm around to see substantial change & I hope to play my part no matter how big or small.

    Ayn - It's sad, but not overly surprising that you haven't worked with a male in EC in 20 years. I'm not sure about being a trendsetter. The others have been doing this far longer than me & deserve the title more, but thnk you. You are spot on about salary though. research has highlighted this, the fear of suspicion I spoke about & the perception that caring & educating young children is primarily the domain of women. Just has Donna pointed out.

    Donna - That's the million dallar question, isn't it? I have a few ideas, but ideas have a habit of slipping out of conscious thought. I think that while Scott & Jeff & Matt & Tom & myself can do our best to provide examples of how male teachers are a good thing, it's just as vital for our female colleagues to speak on our behalf. Afterall, if someone needs convincing who are they more likely to listen to, you or me?

    Once again thank you to all!
    Your humble big boy,
    Greggles <(;-P)

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  10. It is a very tricky topic indeed and reflective of our "day and age". I can think of a number occasions in our PRIVATE lives, let alone professional in schools etc, where we have been cautious, because of society and not because of what we feel. Not sure if I have expressed myself very well there.. but you know: our kids stripping off at the water play area in the park, whilst others wear swimming trunks etc..

    I worry that this will make our children feel more inhibitions and body conscious and also experience a smaller sense of fun and childhood freedom.

    As to a professional environment - I welcome male carers - they add a wonderful dimension to my children's day.

    Maggy

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  11. Yes - this subject is a matter of interest to me. I've noticed that when pre-school centres have a strong outdoor focus then this attracts more male applicants. For example, at Mindstretchers Nature Kindergartens there are quite a few male staff. I think it's the same in outdoor nurseries in most European countries, but don't quote me on this.

    Also like attracts like - the more men around, the more who join. It's also the same with caretakers/janitors - once one or two women take up post, more start thinking about it. My husband and a friend started going to a playgroup many years ago and within months, many more dads turned up and the health visitors would encourage other dads to go along to for support, etc.

    Are you on the look out for male pre-school bloggers? - I see you have Scott and Tom's blogs mentioned. Please go and look at Tom Sensori's blog about sand and water tables - utterly divine - the man is a genius.

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  12. Great piece.
    Yes men in ece are facing prejudice. It would be good to have some programs to get more men involved. Making it normal is the best way to combat prejudice.
    As our children become progressively more involved in institutional care, a by-product is to further feminise their world. This is not healthy for society, or for the children. The protections that have been put in place for children should not be allowed to become part of a pendulum of hysteria that does its own forms of damage.
    I wish I could help you network with more male teachers - but the only one I have worked with in 15 years lasted for one year.

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  13. HI Greg,
    Where to start. I guess with ignorance being an even bigger epidemic than child abuse.I ahve worked in the chidlcare field for over 15 years now and have seen a few male carers in my time. I have noticed though more of late and im excited for this possiblity. Your so right with everythign you ahve written and i believe their really needs to be a campaign out there about males working within the field, that will educate both centre and families.
    I ahve expereinced shocking ignoracne in my time and as a young carer unsure at the time as how to challenge i am no longer that person. I once had a director employ a male carer and would only let them work in the oldest age bracket.After hearing this i walked up to my director and stated that if she did not trust hime whole heartedly (like she would any other carer) then he shouldnt be there. If she did trust him then i said i would expect him to be allowed to work with ALL age groups( unoles it was his choice for a certain age group) as i know everyone ahd their fave etc. Its just utter garbage adn pure ignorance.
    I mean your right child abusers are often woman (sorry wont quote facts as im not sure) and not men. Besides that i have seen a great deal of woman working in chidlcare who have been unkind, abusive, bitter and even cruel. I think more time should be spent questioning peoples integrity as a person then their gender. The fact is being male or female dosnt make you a good person, ones values and ethics do.

    Sorry for the rant.....lol It just gets more all riled up when i have to think about such stupidity. Keep up the good work.
    Ps I actually reported those woman to DOCS as i dont care if your male or female (Im like the childcare mumma lion)I will report you if you mess with my kiddies. And the thing is they barely got a slap on the wrist. I bet if i reported a male worked he'd be out on his arss today. Its total crap.!!

    Woooo ok better go before i say something i shouldnt

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