by Russell Ballantyne
We had 44 men attend our EC-MENz summit – which was held at Karaka Learning Centre in May of this year. This is an annual event and the only time where males outnumber the females in any early childhood event.
Every time I come away from this event, I am even more convinced that our sector is losing something very valuable by not having more male teachers. I have seen so many talented, fun loving individuals sharing their teaching stories of endeavour and adventure. I have heard so many stories of the differing pathways taken and the life skills accumulated which cloak these men in the way they express and deliver the learning experiences they bring into our centres.
The men who come to our summits revel in the company of others. They enjoy the male connection and that is why we structure games and down time to ensure participants have an opportunity to talk and share stories. We do this because the men working in ece are isolated. We know from research that men tend to stay in the sector if they are supported by other men. That means that men are in undergraduate classes, male trainees are posted with male associates and there are men in the same centre. With this they feel less isolated and are more likely to discuss issues and occurrences with those that are less likely to judge them. Most men, feel they have to justify why they want to work in ece in an effort to get approval from the gatekeepers – our women. This is something that most women don’t have to worry about but is a barrier to participation for our men. Our men need the approval of our women as historically it’s their turf and they own it.
This is the reality of a sector in which gender exclusion has been so dominant that it has become the norm and to think differently to this takes a much greater level of understanding that has yet to happen. I have been told by some in positions of influence that “we are over gender issues now – that was so much the ‘90s”(in reference to the girls can do anything campaign). But in reality we are not – because things in ece are no different now than they were in the 90’s (still 2% male teachers). Let’s be honest, whilst women have made some gains there are still large disparities between male/female wages and participation rates in many industries. We can talk about Company Directors and many glass ceilings yet to be broken by females. Gender issues are still there and we need to do more to change this. But we need to look in our garden too.
Jan Peeters(2007) supports the construct that early childhood education historically is seen as womens work and that as such the workforce constantly “reproduces its own patterns in recruitment and training(pg 17”). So in short the status quo perpetuates the status quo and unless something drastic happens to challenge this, it will remain so. I have really engaged with Camerons(2006) call for more critical reflection in early childhood services on men’s roles and experiences. This will help define the issues and really focus in depth on what are the processes and messages that are preventing more men from considering early childhood as a legitimate career. In 1999 Cameron, Moss and Owen pointed out that the solution to seeing working with young children as women’s work was ensuring the visibility of men and women, both as categories and in their infinite variety. There is the fear that as long as we have so few men there will be the expectations that they will be expected to do “mens” roles – which will be very stereotypical and limited. To guard against this it is important to get more men in their infinite variety so that our children will see that men can fulfil a wide range of tasks and skills – something each of our annual summits illustrate beautifully. So if we can achieve a greater participation rate for male teachers in our sector it’s clearly a win/win for gender constraints – women are not bound to the nursery and men can move away from the tool bench…..magic!!!!
Cameron , C , Moss, P, &Owen, C (1999), Men In the Nursery: gender and Caring work, London, Paul Chapman
Cameron, C (2006 ) “Men in the Nursery Revisited: Issues of male workers and professionalism” in Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Vol 7, Number 1
Peters, J ( 2007) “Including Men In Early Childhood Education: Insights from the European Experience” in New Zealand Research in Early Childhood Education Vol 10
About the author
Russell Ballantyne is President of EC MENz and has been teaching in ECE since 1983. He’s worked in a variety of roles, kindergarten teacher, head teacher, Senior teacher, General Manager and Visiting lecturer and is now a Centre Owner/Teacher at Early Childhood on Stafford in Dunedin. Russell has a strong passion about children experiencing gender diversity daily.