As they approach their second anniversary, we spoke with members of the Thriving as Male Educators Facebook group, which was established in 2021, when two male early childhood teachers (ECTs) were speaking about how they could better support other men like them.
From an initial discussion, the popular group now has over 130 members, with more joining each day, and eight administrators who look after regions all over Australia, bringing the men of ECEC together to provide tips, techniques and strategies experienced male educators use to succeed and thrive at their workplace, as well as offering a safe space for male educators to discuss their challenges and triumphs and gather the support of their peers.
Understanding the male position
For group co-founder Ramesh Shrestha, there are some common issues which crop up time and time again for his male colleagues.
“Gender stereotypes, differing expectations, judgemental attitudes and discrimination are unfortunately all too common,” he said, outlining that the presence of these factors can have a negative impact on the wellbeing and passion that male educators feel for their work.
For one of the group’s administrators, who has chosen to remain anonymous for this article, but who has 20 years of experience working in the ECEC sector, the pervasive feeling is one of being in a minority, and being stigmatised unfairly.
Another group administrator, Ralph Southall, a centre director who has dedicated 40 years to the ECEC sector commented; “23 years ago I completed a study with year ten students on their understanding and perception of males in childcare (sic.). Now coming up for my 40th anniversary in ECEC I find that those same perceptions still exist. As my passion for ECEC continues to grow, I find myself hoping for a greater level of acceptance and inclusion for males within the field.”
Mr Southall’s comments highlight that while the presence of men in the ECEC sector is not a new phenomenon, the perception of men, and their place in the sector, remains a challenging space.
Fellow admin Matthew Oates, a leader with over 15 years of experience in the sector, welcomes the duality of being male in a female dominated sector.
“We hold both sets of energy,” he explained. “We are both the fun energetic “male” stereotype, but also hold the ability to be sensitive to children’s needs and emotions.”
Given the challenges that some men who enter the sector face, we wanted to understand more about what drew the men in Thriving as Male Educators to the ECEC sector, and what keeps them there when difficulties arise.
For Wayne Armstrong, a Family Daycare Coordinator with 18 years of experience in ECEC,, there was a desire for a more meaningful career, after being burnt out by “unrealistic quotas” and long hours in a sales role.
“I left that job in 2005 to study education but with a focus on high school,” he continued. “My sister was working in early childhood and was able to gain the opportunity for casual work experience in a local long day care centre. I found I had a passion for this age group and a connection to the children, so I changed my career focus to ECEC.”
When there are difficult days, it is the support of his professional network and his family and friends which keeps him going, along with reflecting on the positive impact he has had on many children over the years.
“It’s always nice when some of the original children that you provided care for who are now adults themselves get excited to see you and remember their time with you,” he said.
“We have had some definite challenging times with our work but I am surrounded by such wonderful people, that when one feels down and disillusioned, the rest are able to bring them backup. Plus we have an art space at our office for when you need a break, you can spend 5-10 minutes doing some art therapy.”
“The only time that I had anyone question my time as a male educator (apart from myself) is when in roughly my first year a parents friend asked them how they felt about a male changing their child’s nappy,” he continued.
Thankfully the parent in question responded by challenging the thinking, and asking how that family approached the father of the child changing their nappy, or having uncles and close family friends in their child’s company.
Josh Watson has worked in the ECEC sector for more than 20 years, and currently holds a lead educator position.
“While I was at school I knew I wanted to teach,” he shared, “but I was never keen on study or doing more school work when I left school at 17.”
“My younger sister was working in ECEC, and they had 2 male teachers there. I never knew that men working in early childhood was a possibility until I learnt about them, and I started volunteering at my sister’s service to see if it was something I was interested in. I immediately knew it was my calling.”
“I’ve worked as an Educator/ lead Educator/ Educational Leader and have found my home (centre) where I’ve been for 17 years. We have a core group of Educators (10 of us) that have been together for 10+ years so when times are tough we can rely on each other for support. I also know the valuable work we do as Educators and how important we are, that I know the bad days won’t last long.”
For another group member, who has also chosen to remain anonymous, it was his own childhood trauma which compelled him to work with children, and help them, “as best I could” to avoid or navigate their own traumatic experiences.
“I stay in the sector, and am looking to move higher into the ECT role eventually, because I see the impact that I am having on these children, helping them to become confident and capable.”
Making a space for men
To learn more about what ECEC services can do to make their environments more welcoming for the men of ECEC, we reached out to the group.
Make men more visible: ECEC providers should be using campaigns, media, advertising and images which feature male educators. That way, the group told us, “we can feel as though we belong there.”
Advocate for your male colleagues: Discuss the benefits of having men and women present in the ECEC space to care for children. Speak up on behalf of men in professional discussions, on and off social media.
Provide the same support: Make sure men have access to the same uniforms, facilities, learning opportunities and professional spaces as women do. If you’re hosting a ‘female specific’ fundraising event such as ovarian cancer awareness, do one for prostate awareness too! “Gender shouldn’t influence how you’re treated,” one group member told us.
Encourage and support men to find safe spaces: Groups such as Thriving as Male Educators help men to network with other male early childhood professionals, especially if they are the only male in the service.
To learn more about Thriving as Male Educators find the group on Facebook, or contact Ramesh Shrestha for more information.
September 1, 2023