Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa
Nga Mihi nui. Nga Mihi mahana
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa
A special welcome to Bryan Nelson from Men teach.org. Bryan has travelled across the Pacific to share with us his vast knowledge and expertise and we look forward to his presentation which Ron Blatz has promised will be a lot of fun as well as informative. Welcome to this summit Bryan – we very much appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to share your wealth of experience with us.
We also look forward to the presentations by our own Dr Sarah Farquahar , Brent Mawson on boys collaborative play and Alex Williams research on How Men in Early Childhood are portrayed to the general public. We will also get an insight into palagi men working in a Pasifika centre and the challenges they face and will then also be treated to recruitment and training information from Stu Birch and Nikki Going.
So again welcome to you all – another year has passed and as we assemble here in Auckland I take time to acknowledge the employers, the providers and most importantly our sponsors who have contributed to the success of this meeting.
First up we must acknowledge Kidsfirst kindergartens who appear to be leading in the commitment to programme enrichment with their advertising campaign actively featuring males and their willingness to fund this event as a main sponsor. We say thank you for making our job much easier and for making men feel welcomed into the sector. They actively monitor their male participation levels – currently males make up 2.4% of their workforce –twice the national average….and they actively act on suggestions to improve the dynamics within the organisation. They are a model for others to aspire to despite the low male participation rate in the employment statistics.
I also officially acknowledge our hosts AUT for the venue and support of this conference – again they have demonstrated a willingness to help us make a difference not only with the venue but with staff both participating and attending. I hope that our presence and your presence together will encourage males to participate in your training programmes as well as lead to a greater understanding of the challenges facing men coming into the sector and then staying.
I also thank Unitec – another training provider who through their sponsorship have stated their commitment to make a difference – let’s hope that men are encouraged to your courses and that together we can move the percentage of male participation rates in the early childhood sector into double figures.
I would also like to acknowledge funding from the Ministry of Education who have supported this group over the past few years in whatever capacity they have been able to despite no policy line authorising such action. It is too easy to blame the Ministry when they themselves are hindered by the compulsion to follow policy. The challenge that we have is to give them this pathway to follow and I will come back to this later. Finally I thank you all –the participants who have fronted up to learn more and i promise you this weekend will be very interesting. I particularly want to acknowledge the women who have attended – we need your support and we believe as an organisation we will not move forward without it – so thank you for not saying this is just a bloke issue – you by your presence here today acknowledge that this is a sector issue and we look forward to working alongside of you.
So what has happened in the last year? Certainly there has been no televised campaign to attract men into the sector. Education for some reason is still submerged in the muddied waters of equality – that to advertise for one group at the expense of another is somehow inherently wrong, despite the overwhelming statistics that men account for only 1.15% of trained teachers in the early childhood sector as of July 1 2009. In my approach to the minister I did receive the old worn out official line that research says what matters is good teachers, not the gender of the teacher. We don’t necessarily disagree with that – but again we state that there has been no effort to find more good male teachers – we believe that there are many still out there and sometime soon an effort needs to be made to find them and encourage them to enter our workforce. I take considerable heart from the continual advertisements by the army and navy targeting women that regularly view on prime time television. I also take heart from the recent public statement from national police headquarters that they would like more women to apply and enter the workforce as they have a different range of skills and approaches that would enhance their service delivery. Usually police follow education (or lack of) in results so I find it is a tad ironical that education needs to follow police in its thinking. So just imagine ….yes the Ministry could do it – we just need to help them get the courage…..
Again I raise the issue that i find it very intriguing that the Early Childhood sector, which is heralded as providing choice for parents, provides no such choice when it comes to the gender of the teacher teaching those children. Continually at our centre when we review enrolments with parents there are two reasons why they come to us – one is the large play space and the other is the fact that there are male teachers (as well as female teachers). Parents want their children taught by both men and women, and the sector that again unbelievably faced an incredible staffing shortage did nothing to respond to this. It seems so sensible to try to recruit from the untapped potential of males in the community – a potential that has incredible positive benefits for children, parents and teaching teams. Children will have the opportunity to build relationships with men, learn a wider range of interests and skills, be exposed to new ideas and happenings and develop an idea that being “male” is as diverse as the colours of the sky. Parents will be able to choose from a wider pool of teachers to approach , fathers will not feel out of place in their child’s learning environment due to their ‘maleness’ and they will also have some role models in parenting and child management strategies to refer to. Teaching teams will have a richer experience base to share and learn from, will model to children that both men and women can work cooperatively and have fun together, and will enjoy the seat up /seat down games that mixed teaching teams get to play…
So let’s look to the parents again. If the parents are asking for males to teach their children, why hasn’t the sector responded? Is it because it is scared to? – is there a fear that men will take the power positions in this collaborative coven we operate within? A hint maybe did arise when a scurrilous article was written from a New Zealand Teachers Council report on leadership within the Early Childhood Sector in August of last year. Two newspapers published a report stating women were better teachers than men, and this led to comments from within the sector of “men operating from a power basis and the last thing we need is men coming in and telling us (women) what to do!.”
Unfortunately such comments were published leaving some very embarrassed representatives hastily covering their ….tracks but it did illustrate to me how fragile the gender issue is and how for some people the presence of men could be perceived as a threat. That is why we need to be seen, and we need to be viewed from a “what’s in it for kids basis”. The one element that unites all teachers is the fact that we can contribute immensely to a child’s awakening – and that there are many ways to do this and the variety of approaches and experiences that we choose enables the learning to be more varied and intensive. And that is the point – the more diverse the teaching team is the greater the potential of learning experiences for the child. At our centre each of our staff have diverse backgrounds and interests – that is why we appointed them and that is why so much happens on a daily basis. The choice for our children is immense – and they are given the freedom to choose where to participate and with whom. We are regularly digging, mixing concrete, wheel barrowing – we even have a fully fledged licensing system for wheelbarrow management- cooking, painting, dancing, singing, swinging and so on. Wrestling, sword making, flower drawing, super hero flying, family play are all part of daily activity involving both genders, and each staff member passionately defends their interests. The point I am making is that in our centre nothing is impossible because of the array of skills and talents we have and that comes from being a team of both men and women. We understand both boys and girls because we were all them once and we negotiate on behalf of each gender for resources and privileges. And our parents experience this on a daily basis – they enjoy the mix and receiving the best of both worlds. They have the choice – the sad fact not many others do.
So how do we light this path?
The first step we all need to do is to get out there and talk about this issue. Highlight the fact that we have one of the western world’s lowest statistics of male participation in the early childhood workforce despite considering ourselves as one of the world’s leaders in early childhood provision.
Talk about countries like Norway who are heading towards twenty percent of their workforce being male and ask ourselves what our centres would look like if we were able to achieve that. We also need to ensure that we talk positively about our work, and how privileged we are to be involved in the child’s most exciting developmental period, where they learn about themselves and the world around them. We also need to talk about this job being ideal for men – where it is physical, stimulating and has unlimited possibilities in terms of career development. We also need to talk about how important it is for children to develop relationships with men and learn that men are very different to each other so that children don’t get constrained by gender identification.
We need to talk to our men and encourage them to share their world with children, to invite the men who we believe would be good teachers into the sector encouraging them to train.
We need local research into why men are not training or applying to train. And if they do train, what is the best way to do this – perhaps we need to reshape training to the individual …now there’s a thought …individual programmes … how will our training institutions respond? The more this issue is discussed the more it becomes a focus and the more it is focussed the more likely that solutions will be found and the sector will have a basis to respond.
We also need to identify those providers that are responding and publicly affirm them so that others take note and follow. The same needs to happen on a local level with employers and organisations like Kidsfirst Kindergarten who lead the way. They need to be congratulated for their sincere efforts and their “we want to make a difference “stance – I don’t think they realise yet how empowering their small steps are to the males in the workforce so it is up to us to do that.
We need to maximise the traction we have so far and continue to build alliances with larger networks and this needs to occur so that the voice of change gets louder and louder. I acknowledge NZEI and their intentions to make a difference and their support EC-MENz – they have been gracious with their support in utilising their networks and we must ensure that we make use of such offers both on a National and local level.
We also need to get alongside the employers who have yet to embrace male teachers and work with them to overcome any bias or fear and to do this I believe we need to be very careful we don’t shut doors. The more images we can get of men working in early childhood in the media, the more “normal” it will be seen as by children, parents, teachers and employers. So the challenge is to get out there and be seen.
The Marketing of Early Childhood as a career for men also needs to be reviewed. It is interesting that after our centre was featured on the Nigel Latta ‘Politically Incorrect Parenting Show’. I have been noticed in aeroplanes winging their way to Singapore, in a cafe at farewell spit, been asked to run workshops in Rotorua and had visitors from across the country to see our centre. The interesting point that is that for these strangers and other teachers that I have met, my gender has not been an issue. In the past people have said “oh it’s great that being a guy you want to work with young children – it’s unusual for a guy to do such a job”. Instead they focussed on the experiences we were providing for our children that featured on that show and I believe to some degree that it is no longer perceived by many that it is unusual for men to want to work with young children. After all, with many men being active participators in the raising of children in the home environment, one would ask why would a career for men in early childhood education be perceived as unusual anyway – it is not inconsistent with what many are doing at home . I also believe the type of experiences that were portrayed without the risk of too much stereotyping were those that males could identify with, and perhaps displayed some options that they also could contribute to support the young child’s developing awareness. I link this to another experience we had last year when we visited the forest kindergartens in Germany and Denmark – interestingly enough in all settings we visited there were male teachers who were active supporting the children in the bush. Maybe the lesson to take from this could be that we need to market the early childhood career package in such a way that appeals to men so that they can identify areas where they can contribute .
So I challenge you all to ponder over this weekend what you individually and collectively can do to advance the number of men working in this sector – how can you make a difference? It could be discussing this issue at a staff meeting, referring people to our website, talking to parents and asking what they think, talking to department staff and asking how they believe that we can improve the woeful participation statistics of men in the Early Childhood Sector, writing to the Minister or your local MP, or better still meeting face to face with those that are paid to represent us in Wellington. Getting your photo in the media as a male working with young children all helps to promote that Early Childhood Education is a valid career choice for men. If you work in a centre without any men ask why that is the case. Ask what can we do to change that? Invite good men to apply – compliment them on how well they interact with the children and encourage them to consider a career change. Whilst it may not happen immediately – who knows what seeds you may have planted? Every single effort will make a difference and will help children have the opportunity to experience a greater range of ideas and possibilities than they are presently exposed to.
So sit back and enjoy the challenges, the ideas, the stories that will be shared this weekend, and I congratulate you all on taking the time to help make our early childhood centres a much more interesting place.
President ECMENZ Inc