There is a buzz word in our early childhood community that is getting lots of attention these days. Yes, you know it, the big “D” word - DIVERSITY.
More and more, early childhood programs and classrooms are working towards being more intentional and innovative as they deliver classroom experiences, learning activities, and environments that support racial and cultural diversity and appreciation. This broad brush of diversity also paints a picture that embraces a variety of abilities, languages, ethnicities, and families.
Yet, what are we doing to create a diverse gender balanced workforce in our early childhood programs? One that allows young children to know that people of all genders have an essential role to play in their care, development, and education.
Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that approximately 1.2% of preschool and kindergarten teachers are men. You read correctly – less than 2% of the workforce in our preschool and kindergarten classrooms are male.
Our field is dominated by women, but the presence of men in our classrooms is so important. Young children need to see that men can be just as compassionate and nurturing as women. We also know that having men in our early childhood classrooms is a big deal because it supports breaking down those stereotypes and barriers that still exist. Ones that surround the belief that men cannot be caregivers and educators of young children – that this is a job only for women.
As I ran across the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, several questions came to mind - Why is this number so ridiculously low? Why are men still reluctant entering this profession? What voids need to be filled to better support men in the field and men considering an early childhood teaching career?
Pondering on the answers to these questions caused the hands of time to roll back as I reflected on my earlier years as an educator being bombarded with questions such as: “Isn’t that women’s work?” “Why do you want to work with young children anyway?” “ How can you support a family on that salary”?
This experience that happened to me 30 plus years ago, believe it or not, is still happening to men who are making the career choice of entering the early childhood profession. A career choice that continues to present itself with stereotypes and biases, a lack of trust, and, of course, the low pay that has been historically and unfortunately partnered with the early childhood profession.
These challenges continue to plague our profession and discourage exceptional male teachers from staying in the field. These challenges minimize the interests of potentially new male teachers from entering our classrooms for the first time and fuels the breakdown of creating gender-balanced workforces in our programs.
Men are still faced with stereotypes and biases which create huge barriers when choosing early childhood education as a career choice. Unfortunately, some men are still being asked – “Why would a man want to teach young kids?" Also, other men may face scrutiny and suspicion when attempting to express affection for young children in the classroom. Factors that put their livelihoods, reputation, and future at risk.
Men are still faced with stereotypes and biases which create huge barriers when choosing early childhood education as a career choice.
We also cannot forget the fact that teaching in the early childhood profession provides one of the lowest salaries in the education field. We have long fought and continue to fight for salaries that reflect the important work that is done in our classrooms by both women and men. This low pay creates another barrier in recruiting men who have salary ambitions that exceed what the early childhood profession can offer.
Sorry for painting a picture of gloom and doom as it pertains to a huge void of men in our profession, but there is hope. Hope that we can collectively design ideas that support men’s efforts in serving as role models to young children; to be a male presence in the lives of children who do not live with their fathers. Hope that we can create a platform for men in the early childhood profession to stand on proudly as they sustain a consistent, meaningful, and nurturing presence in the lives of young children.
In part two of this series, I will address some of the ideas that can support developing a pathway for recruiting and retaining men in our early childhood classrooms. We owe it to young kids to take a stronger position on creating and sustaining a gender balanced early childhood workforce.
SBVP Virginia Quality Specialist