A few years ago, I graduated from college and became a practitioner in early education and childcare. I wanted to understand my own children more, especially my son who was diagnosed with developmental delay and autism. I wasn’t sure if I will get my place in the class.
Happily, I did, in my final year of studying I was the only male in both groups.
Not mentioning that throughout my studies, another three guys managed to drop out.
Throughout my student placements in the various early years’ establishments across the city, I noticed less than a few male practitioners present. I met a few teachers but if it comes to nurseries and early years centres I could count one male amongst 15 female stuff if any.
Early education is female-dominated, but I think we need changes and a different approach to a male’s in early years.
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said:
Every child needs a role model to guide them – whether that’s a parent, a close family member or friend, or someone at nursery or preschool that makes a difference in their life. The early years’ staff who support children in the first few years of their education equip them with important skills before they reach the classroom, getting them on track to succeed as they get older.
Just as parenting is a shared responsibility, so is kickstarting a child’s love of learning. I want more men to play a positive role in educating and caring for the next generation. That’s why we’re supporting the Fatherhood Institute to encourage men from all walks of life into early years careers, to give children the best start in life and be a part of this important and rewarding sector.
At the end of 2018 Parenta published list of benefits and barriers of entry for males in early years environment. As someone who walked the walk and talked the talk, I can agree with the statements below.
There are many benefits to encouraging more men to work in early years settings, including:
- A more diverse workforce which better reflects our society at large, creating positive male role models. This is especially important if a child’s own father is absent. Research suggests that significant contact time with a male adult was lacking in 17% of children from lone-parent families, who experienced less than two hours a week. And one third had under six hours a week, so men in early years settings are vital in redressing this balance
- A larger pool of male applicants to recruit staff from
- A reduction in the attainment gap between boys and girls aged 16. Although more research is needed, it would seem logical to assume that more positive male role models at all stages of a child’s education, would be helpful
- Children can benefit from the different approaches and caring styles that men can bring, including challenging behaviour, and risk-taking
- Men can often bring more active movement, or ‘rough-and-tumble’ play in their interaction with children which can be positive
- Male practitioners can help challenge stereotypes related to professions, household duties, toys and activities. If children see men in different roles in their childcare and educational settings, these roles can be accepted more readily by society at large.
Barriers to entry
Despite these advantages, statistics prove there are still many barriers preventing men from working in nurseries including:
- A prevailing attitude that caring for the young is ‘women’s work’, despite improvements in men sharing childcare duties for their own children
- Men can feel unwelcome in a predominantly female environment
- Men can still be viewed with suspicion in early years settings or face an uphill struggle to challenge stereotypes
- Negative generalisations about men – such as ‘men don’t talk much’ or ‘men always play rough’ or ‘men are not as emotionally-connected as women’
- Low wages and the perceived lack of career opportunities or progression.
We need to be able to create a gender-neutral culture if it comes to the early years.
This is not female responsibility to raise our children, as we are taking an equal role at home, we should be encouraged to show the benefits of men in early years settings. For example, in Norway in 2008, the number of males in EY risen to 10% (up from 3%). In addition, Norway was able to increase the proportion of kindergartens with at least one male teacher from 16% to 22% due to a legal responsibility to increase men employed in pre-schools.
How amazing is that?
When I was studying at Edinburgh College, we had a male university lecturer from Norway, visiting us and talking about Norway’s early years. They have some nurseries with a 50/50 ratio of male to females. When I started I realised that at age 32 studying early education and childcare led to many conversations about it. Why did I want to study it? I was also aware of “safeguarding concerns” as many parents seeing me on placements were quite shocked and untrusted to see a man in the nursery.
As a male, I had to have eyes around my head, making sure that I am always visible by other staff, to protect myself. Many practitioners encouraged me to try to let go of fear but I wanted to be safe. When a child got hurt or cried female practitioners were able to comfort a child, give a kiss on the forehead, cuddle, place a child in need of comfort on the lap.
Can you imagine a man doing it?
When a child, with a strong relationship with me, wanted to sit on my lap and give me a hug from just pure sympathy I had to avoid it. I used to say to children that I cannot do that due to sore legs or any other “white lie”. Just too not to put myself in a risky situation where someone could accuse me of anything.
Can you imagine changing nappies of 20 children in the morning session and afternoon session? With children getting potty trained, which lead to many accidents? I really don’t mind. But I did do it only with open doors to the bathroom when female co-workers were trusted to do it behind closed doors with no issues. I really preferred to change the nappies of my pupils with someone insight. I loved working in the early years, children’s approach to male is the setting is totally different. Dynamics of relationships are different with children. It was a really amazing experience and now I can see changes slowly being implemented.
But still, when I mention that I used to work in mainstream nurseries and council-run Early Years Centre people seem to say – “Really? Wow. That’s unusual for men to work as a nursery nurse in the UK”.
Well, maybe we need to address this and offer a more supportive approach. Start making it mandatory to have male practitioners and teachers in Early Years settings? I could see how children are approaching a male role model, especially when raised by a single mum and grannies. But still, I was in constant alert, to be always visible due to concerns of some parents.
I would like to also touch base with some issues I experienced during my work as an Early Years Practitioner in EYC’s and nurseries. I worked with people with passion, they wanted to change the early years, they built amazing relationships with parents and other staff members. I worked with amazing managers and officers.
I worked also in places where I was expected to do stuff without resources, I was questioned when called in sick, or when my children were sick. I was supposed to look after someone else’s children and be interrogated when my own children were sick, I was not allowed to look after my own family and myself. It was pure mobbing.
No understanding for anyone’s parenting duties, we should work no matter what, as children and nurseries are the most important, but it wasn’t important when your own children were sick or you struggled with anything in your home life.
Our own families, our children were much less important than children we cared for. Is that a normal practice? How did we suppose to support children, when we are expected to neglect our own due to pressure and lack of support from authorities managing early years settings?
I wanted to support children and families. Luckily I got my dream job as a Father and Child Wellbeing Worker at Children 1st.
What’re your thoughts on this matter?