Recently, Lisa Guernsey at Early Ed Watch did a 5Qs Interview for Inside Pre-K
It is a series I have been doing mostly on authors writing about
preschool. She was happy to do it but asked if, as part of a series at Early Ed Watch on Head Start
I would do one for her in return. I can tell you, a 5Qs interview is
not as easy as I thought it was. When someone asks you tough questions
about something you care about, you want to just spill your heart on
the page. But, since it is a blog and not a book, you have to hold back
a little. I thought I might take a chance this week to slightly expand
on two of the questions Lisa asked me. I will post what I wrote in my
response and then some thoughts I have had since I finished my Qs. Here
was Lisa's first question:
It's unusual to find men teaching preschool. What should we do to change that?
with any issue in education a lack of men in preschool classrooms can
be addressed through treating symptoms or treating root causes. For
example, in addressing the achievement gap the Harlem Children's Zone
is an approach that addresses causes; NCLB treated the symptoms, test
scores. In medicine, addressing symptoms only works if the body has the
capacity to cure itself. Obviously the achievement gap and lack of men
in preschool are not something that will fix themselves even if we
provide grants to hire men or require more men in classrooms.
So what are the root causes?
The struggle for gender equity has always focused on putting more
women in men's jobs. Only recently, in fields like teaching and nursing
have men begun to step into the shoes of women. Women's reasoning for
entering the workplace of men has been clear: men make more money, have
more respect, and have more power. The reasoning behind men entering
the roles of women is much less clear. We pay plumbers more than child
care workers. Why? Because we value our working plumbing more than
children. It's that simple when approached from an economic standpoint.
It's about the money.
The other issue is that men are discouraged from exploring their
capacity to nurture as an avenue for employment. It is discouraged from
a young age through lack of example and sometimes the dampening of
boys' capacity for empathy. As a society we associate nurturing
behaviors with weakness and our culture rewards strength. A man who is
caring towards children is considered less masculine and so less
valuable, according to his peers, as a member of society. This is where
the tired cliche of "woman's work" turns on its head. Not that only women
should care for children but that caring for children is a skill or
capacity that is squashed in men from a young age. It is societal and
until we begin to help boys grow up whole, we will never have men in
younger classrooms. This is especially true in the community I work in.
For some kids, I have been their first introduction to what a caring
man can be. I have even been able to help some kids with fathers
because the fathers are more comfortable volunteering in my classroom.
The father sees how he can care without being weak and nurture without
his masculinity and become a more caring person.
This is changing, slowly, but I wonder if it may be changing too
slowly. My supervisor has actively sought out men to hire and this year
we expanded the number of men in our program to six. Of course that is
six out of over 140 employees.
Here are my recent thoughts. One thing I have noticed is that many
of the men I have met who are pre-k educators, are very talented and
passionate about their jobs.
When I asked myself why that is, I thought many of these men have
found teaching in preschool as a later career decision and have chosen
it as a practical way to make a living while they are also focused on
other passions, namely art, music, family, etc. What usually happens
though, is they fall in love with it and they realize that they really
enjoy and thrive on teaching. If I were to try to "sell" preschool
teaching as a career to men here are some of the things I might say.
Teaching in preschool is a team effort, in that most classrooms
have a lead teacher and instructional assistant. So if you enjoyed team
sports as a kid you already have many of the skills necessary to work
in this environment.
Teaching in preschool can be extremely rewarding. Working with at
risk children has its own risks and rewards but truthfully, a
relatively passionate and interested teacher can change a child's life.
Many at risk children have never known a consistent father figure
and if they have, that person may have been the "good times" guy and
not the role model for a responsible caregiver much less represent a
man/father in the traditional "Cosby Show" sense.
When young children and parents see a man in a classroom it
automatically changes preconceptions about what school is. This can
positively impact parents who have never had good experiences with
Young children need to be actively engaged while learning. If you
don't see yourself sitting behind a desk for the next ten years but you
don't want to work in construction (I almost became a house painter)
then preschool teaching might be for you. It is a career that engages
your mind and body.
You get to make messes, play tag, read stories, sing songs, play
instruments and or make noise, and explore what it means to be a man
all while getting paid a modest (not great) salary.
Most importantly, everyday you will make a difference in a child's
life, guaranteed, just by being a decent human being who is also a man.
Are you convinced?
Image of: Jonathan Maiden of Lexington, Ky.