Nov 2007. NZ Education Gazette.

Support networks are developing for men training or working in early childhood education. WAYNE ERB reports

Bring up the Men in Early Childhood website and their logo shows a male emperor penguin looking after a chick.

It is an apt analogy for a simple point that men in the teaching profession make; that males have a role to play in nurturing and educating young children.

These same blokes now also support each other, through groups for men in early childhood education that operate in the main centres. Some are new, others well-established and this year they have begun communicating with each other through a national network.

Still in its infancy, the network is known as Men in Early Childhood Education (New Zealand) or EC-MENZ.

It came to life after a summit on men in early child care and teaching was held in Christchurch in March. Organised by the ChildForum research network, the event was a first for New Zealand and brought together many of the men working in early childhood services.

The reality remains that there are very few men in the profession. Ministry of Education statistics from 2006 show there were a total of 140 men employed as teaching staff in licensed early childhood education services. That compares with over 14,000 women, a 100 to 1 ratio.

EC-MENZ coordinator David Baxendell says the real barrier to be overcome is getting men to realise that early childhood teaching is a career path available to them.

He leads the longest-running branch of the network in Canterbury/Westland which has been meeting for over 10 years.

“This is a fantastic job I have done for over 20 years. I’ve loved almost every minute of it and what a shame that so many guys don’t know it is an option.”

EC-MENZ meetings are held regularly in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin and a fledgling Wellington branch has also met. Experienced teachers and trainees alike share their stories and offer mutual support.

Russell Ballantyne chairs the Dunedin group which has a core membership of nine men and is typical of what the branches do. They deliver seminars on topics relevant to the profession, mentor those in study and discuss common issues such as the need for clear policies on discipline, he says.

“We’re a tight-knit group of guys who really enjoy working with young children, who meet every six weeks and get to know each other through food, drink and laughter.”

The network has drawn support from the Ministry of Education and sector organisations including the Early Childhood Council.

Ministry education management policy senior manager Karl Le Quesne spoke at the Christchurch summit and has continued in a liaison role with the network. The Ministry has met travel costs for meetings as members established the network.

Karl says the network members have started some positive work, such as providing role models to students.

“These men have all been there and done that and have a wealth of experience.”

He says the Ministry is committed to finding ways to encourage men to enter the profession. The TeachNZ website and brochures include profiles of men in the sector and a promotional DVD is in the pipeline.

“We are working with a sector working group and we are really keen to keep working with them on ways to support more men getting into early childhood teaching.”

Karl says it is early days yet for turning the numbers around, but it is encouraging to see teachers themselves taking such an active role.

“I think the turning point has been the men getting organized themselves and doing something really positive to support men into teaching.”

The EC-MENZ coordinators aim to build on this year’s momentum by making the summit an annual event. The next event will be held on February 9-10 2008 in Wellington.

The planned summit is entitled ‘The Launching – Te Whakamānu’ and David Baxendell says they plan on incorporating as a society and then move ahead with proactive projects. They hope to work with teacher training institutions and schools to make men more aware of early childhood teaching as a career option.

Participation in the network is something these men have taken on in their own time. During the day, they remain busy helping young children thrive and learn.