[MenTeach: This discussion was posted to the ECEMen’s list in July 2007. We thought it would be of interest to MenTeach readers.]

I am starting work on an article concerning gender differences and conceptions of classroom and behavior management in an ECE environment and I’m looking for some input.

Last year I was asked to step in and temporarily teach two different Head Start classes that had lost teachers mid year. Both classes had been without any real consistency or direction for weeks and the behavior challenges were many.

My successes that year were for the most part credited to my gender, not my skills or expertise.

Is there anything to this “male” presence that demands compliance and respect from young children?

I’d like to hear form anyone with experiences and thoughts to share.

Chuck Allen


I think there are number of people who perceive some mystical “male-presence” factor at work. I suspect that’s because they don’t recognize the specific behaviors that are particular to men in the classroom.
With regard to discipline, I’ve noticed two very specific things that I believe have a fundamental effect on room discipline:

1) when girls engage in behavior calculated to provoke boys or “get them in trouble”, male teachers are more likely to address both sides of the problem while women teachers will insist that the boy should be able to resist provocation, and that’s not realistic in the early childhood age group.

2) male teachers are more likely to be able to recognize and deal successfully with normal “boy behavior” without treating it as “wrong”. For instance, I’m more apt to allow boys to play rough with each other and trust that I can set boundaries that will not allow the rough play to spill over into violence, inappropriate times or places, or bullying children who are smaller or don’t wish to engage in rough play. Women teachers are far more likely to be immediately appalled or dismayed by roughhousing and enjoin it out of hand. In early childhood, the discipline lessons boys need to learn are in the details of dealing with their impulses–not condemning or denying those impulses.

I was also brought into an environment where discipline had been allowed to deteriorate to the point where certain children were simply able to close down the room when they didn’t like the way things were going. Lunchtime was an unmitigated riot. The two points I mention were the key problems that seemed to be gender specific. I did my very best not to evaluate the situation from a sexist perspective, and I can say that what I did worked to the satisfaction of the parents as well as the women teachers. On every occasion where I was resisted or counteracted on either of these two points, the old behavior began to erupt with alarming alacrity.

These are the kinds of background issues that allow we Montessorians to have fewer rules, enforce them consistently, and allow self-discipline to ultimately rule the room. Hope this helps.

Guy Western
St. Paul, MN


Guy’s reply was very good and I agree with what he says. I have found that there is a certain “maleness” in my communication with children around discipline. I can say and do the exact same things as my female colleagues but get better results. The female teachers try to write it off as the children being used to the dads being the disciplinarian at home but I think it goes way beyond that. I get these good results with children who have had little or no contact with a father.

I think there is a couple of things going on, mostly on how we sound different to children. They are used to the high pitched voices of their peers and of the mothers and women who work with them. When they hear a man, we are so different they take notice. The other idea is that perhaps our lower voices kind of “rumble” under the voices of everyone else. Like how elephants communicate sub-sonically over long distances. These are just some working theories of mine.

Bruce Sheppard
EI/ECSE Specialist
Salem, OR


The mystique of the deeper voice comes up a lot but, again, I think it has a lot more to do with what’s actually said. E.g., I’ve noticed men tend to use fewer words and this is critical at the early childhood stage. I fancied myself a man of few words until a woman–a 35-yr. Montessorian–told me, “If you can’t your message in the first six words, you’re wasting your breath.” Yikes! And it’s true, too. The only reason to speak longer is to stall for cool-down time if faces are red or to impress the seriousness of the situation. Then I keep “blah-blahing” until breath rates start to slow or the child accepts the seriousness of the situation, but I might as well be reading the phone book as to substance.

Also at this age, a very talented child psychologist told me it’s not advisable to put something in the form of a question unless the answer can be “no”. When the whole class is waiting with their winter clothes on to go outside, asking the straggling child, “Wouldn’t you like to put your shiny new boots on?” is a risk you can’t afford. “It’s time to get your warm clothes on,” is one word too many but, still, preferable to a negotiation. I’ve had women tell me it’s more important to model etiquette, but there’s nothing inherently impolite about a simple declarative sentence, and I think men are more likely to accept that as fact. Especially at this age when the children just want to know what’s what.

Even more imperatively, the children want to know that there IS a “what” and that they have some control over it. In this respect, Montessori succeeds by allowing the children in each room to establish their own ethic (in all matters non-lethal), and the teacher becomes a guide–a reminder of “how we do things”. “What do we do when. . .?”

If there are any intangible advantages men have when it comes to room management, I think there are two:

1) the *expectation* that we’ll be heeded. E.g., when I ask, “What do we do when. . .?” I *expect* to receive an answer that’s not frivolous. No matter what gender you are, however, that only works if you’re impersonal and consistent to the point where other adults find you utterly boring. rofl Often, even when women aren’t asking a question, I notice that children perceive a question mark in the voice. That perception seems to be more important than the perception of pitch or timbre of the voice. A simple comment like “that’s nice”, from a man invites inspection; where, “that’s nice” from a woman invites discussion. kwim?

2) men are more likely to use non-verbal communication and to use it articulately. E.g., when I demonstrate something, children are more likely to know when I’ve finished without waiting for words. Children seem more attentive to my movement than my words. (This creates a whole ‘nother set of grammar that I have to be carefully conscious of.)

Then there’s the thing I call the “hairy eyeball”: when the child looks for me before engaging in questionable behavior, the “hairy eyeball” non-verbally declares, “If you’re seeking my disapproval beFORE you do that, my job is already done.”

Guy Western
St. Paul, MN


At the risk of being totally politically incorrect, I have to say that I have seen men working in child care that children didn’t listen to well and I have seen women who got instant obedience.

I believe that there are skills here that can and often are learned. Some of those have already been highlighted by previous writers (e.g. being sure you will follow through if need be, avoiding questions if you don’t want to offer choice,…)

At the same time I believe men are schooled more in confrontation, while women are schooled more in redirection. That means we are more comfortable (given our upbringing) in setting clear limits and can do it with no hesitancy and no rancor. We, on the other hand, are not so schooled in redirection and nurturance.

I believe that in order to give children what they need, we have to learn from each other and appropriately balance the two styles.

Michael Sandberg


Good discussion. I particularly like the low rumble notions.

I recently saw a public TV special about violent young male elephants who were calmed by the mere presence of older mature males. Fascinating.

Gender roles and skills like nurturing and sensitivity to children’s cues are constructed socially and thus part of our learned experience.

While some biological differences are innate (things like vocal tone and body hair) most behaviors are influenced most strongly as Michael notes by what we are “schooled in.”

We have the wonderful opportunity as early educators to help the current generation of children be “schooled in” a wide array of gender role possibilities and capabilities.

I take great pleasure in your shared stories of how you do what you do with children.

Way to go guys!

Just do it!
Dennis Reynolds
Portland, OR


One thing that we might also want to consider is social class or background.

When I worked in Head Start for many years I found that many of the teachers who had been former Head Start parents (viz. poor or working class) used few works when they wanted something done by children – and done quickly.

My mom also was very commanding in her approach (raised poor). She had a “look” that would stop my siblings and I instantly.

When I’m observing new teachers, I often see them saying the same thing over and over again so that children become deaf to a teacher’s request.

So I agree that there are definitely skills involved in being able to have children follow directions.

I also think that gender DOES have an impact whether it’s real or perceived.

And of course, gender is a continuum and what is defined as “male” and “female” has had some dramatic changes over history.

Here is an excerpt from “Asking the Right Questions about Baltimore’s African-American Underclass Men and Boys” by Jack Kammer


In American football, the forward pass was invented precisely because the original running game of football, with its infamous flying wedge, was getting too rough and dangerous. The forward pass was intended to make the game safer but some “purists” derided it as “unmanly.”

* “Football History Was Made Here at SLU,” St. Louis University <www.slu.edu/publications/gc/v6-6/news_24.shtml>

Though some American football fans thought the forward pass would ruin the game, “public interest in football soared. A game that had been predicated to a great extent on brute strength became a game of position, balance, speed, mobility and leverage. It still paid to be strong, but now you had to be more than strong.”

* “131 Years of Princeton Football,” Princeton University <www.princeton.edu/football/history.htm>

* Telleen, Maurice. “75 Years Ago: Late Autumn/Early Winter 1926.” The Draft Horse Journal (Winter 2000-2001)

When the helmet first showed up on football fields, Pudge Heffelfinger, Yale’s three-time All American from 1889-1891 said, “None of that sissy stuff for me.”

* Stewart, Bruce K. (Nov/Dec 1995). “American Football.” American History, Vol. 30 Issue 5, p. 24.

In 1611 Thomas Coryat, an Englishman, saw forks being used in Italy. When he brought them back to England, he was widely ridiculed for feminine airs.

* California Academy of Sciences <www.calacademy.org/research/anthropology/utensil/forks.htm>
* Ludwig von Mises Institute <www.mises.org/efandi/ch5.asp>

Frederick William, an 18th-century Prussian king and father of Frederick the Great, beat his son for wearing gloves in cold weather because it was “an effeminate behavior, worthy only of a Frenchman.”

* Derksen, Mary Lou. “Frederick the Great (1712-1786)” <www.suite101.com/article.cfm/childhoods_famous_people/22805>

Wristwatches at first were considered effeminate because “real men” carried pocket watches. When World War I fighter pilots adopted them for tactical reasons, they became acceptably masculine.

* Brink, Bob (May 2000). “The Art and History of Collectible Watches,” Palm Beach Illustrated Magazine, May 2000.

In ancient Greece, using hot water was considered effeminate; a man’s bath typically was a quick bucket of cold water dumped on his head.

* “The History of Plumbing” <www.theplumber.com/greek.html>

Up through the Civil War, cigarettes were considered unmanly because men smoked only pipes and cigars.

* The History Channel. “Empires of Industry Classroom Study Guide” <www.historychannel.com/classroom/admin/study_guide/archives/thc_guide.0092.html>
* “Tips for Tobacco Users” [for Civil War Re- enactors] <www.shasta.com/suesgoodco/newcivilians/advice/tobacco.htm>

Soap and clean underwear

* Arkansas State University <www.clt.astate.edu/rcarlton/PCH09.htm>


* Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online <www.jsonline.com/news/glimpse/glimpseadd6.asp>

Drinking cups

* Grow, Malcolm C. (1918). Surgeon Grow: An American in the Russian Fighting. New York: Frederick A. Stokes. <www.vlib.us/medical/russdoc/Rdoc05.htm>

Long sleeves

* Eason, James. University of Chicago class notes <penelope.uchicago.edu/ross/ross216.html>

Open collars revealing the chest

* Hurstwic, a living history society in New England <www.valhs.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/clothing.htm>

Bryan G. Nelson
Minneapolis, MN


Great discussion!

A side track has me considering…

As men move into this work, to what extent do we assimilate the appropriate skill set or do we show up with it? (or both?).

I imagine that I probably did not have those skills but came with the skill of not feeling intimidated by social pressures to stick with “Men’s work.” I was excited about the challenge of this work and I had wonderful instructors! So I learned and found my way.

At some point I also found my voice as a male in Early Childhood. I don’t think the skills were there though perhaps I was given to the challenge and something in my personality made this something I did well. Maybe there was something in earlier relationships that allowed me to observe interactions with a keener eye.

I tell folks who say, “Oh you must have the patience of a saint” that it’s like being an auto mechanic; You have to know engines and you have to learn about each particular model. If you’re well-trained you don’t need any patience. Everything you come across makes sense or you know you can figure it out.

So how did you all come to the skills you use?

It’s an interesting question.

Salem, OR


I work as a consultant to community preschools that include children with social, emotional, and behavior challenges throughout our State. Though some might argue that the influence of gendered service delivery in early care and education are not directly related to young children’s behavior, I would point out that of the last 200 children referred for my project services, 177 were boys. I will let you speculate as to whether that has more to do with the nature of referrers (principally early directors and early educators) or the referees (principally boys), with the one caveat that in the article, “Out of Sight But Not Out of Mind: The Harmful Absence of Men” (Exchange Magazine, 2004, n156; pp. 42-43), Bruce Cunningham and Bernie Dorsey point out that, “While men are often out of child care sites, they are seldom out of the minds of children.”

Most of the following quotations are less than meticulously cited, so you might have to dig a little for full citations if any of this interests you, and Bryan may have to forgive me for much of this probably came piece by piece from the References Section of the www.MenTeach.org website. In any case, perhaps one or two of these leads might help you to fill in your article just a bit:

– Having males in EC settings can increase father involvement in children’s lives by helping fathers to feel more welcome. (Elicker, J. 2002. More Men in Early Education: Why? Young Children 57 (6): 50-54).

– Greater father involvement in the lives of young children is associated with fewer behavior problems, greater sociability, and better school performance (Engaging Fathers: Issues and Considerations for Early Childhood Educators. Gadsden, V. & Aisha, R. (2002). Young Children 57 (6): 32-42.

– Modeling appropriate behavior is a fundamental principal of developmentally appropriate practices, yet the field of ECE cannot deny the obvious: If young children are to learn the value of nurturing male behaviors, they must have nurturing males in their daily lives from which to model from. Piburn, D. (2006; March/April). Gender Equality for a New Generation: Expect Male Involvement in ECE. Exchange, 168, 18 – 22).

– You will have to check the article out to get her actual citations, but in the October, 2003 journal, National Education Association (NEA) Today, Ms. Marilyn Milloy quotes a range of individuals with such statements as:

* “Male teachers can be effective as “authority” figures for some kids who may respond to a male presence.”

* “Men can be effective as “authority” figures for some kids who may respond to a male presence.”

* “Male teachers can often talk to boys in a way–and about subjects–that can easily get their attention.”

* “Men can inspire parental interest in their child’s education.”

* “Single mothers may see a man caring about their child, and that’s a hook.”

* “There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests a diverse educational experience makes kids more well rounded and better prepared.”

* “Men can bring a different perspective and worldview that might enhance a child’s education experience.”

* “A diverse educational experience makes kids be more well rounded and better prepared,” says NEA’s Segun Eubanks.” Many boys and girls respond to a male presence.”

(Milloy, M. (2003). NEA Today Magazine. October, 2003).

I hope these are helpful.

Don Piburn


I am also liking the discussion points that are being brought up. It would be difficult to find consensus with the ideas that have been presented since they are mostly based on personal experience. I would like to share another anecdote that supports Dennis’ notion of the presence of older males having a calming effect.

For many years in our 3-county ECSE program we had a behavior specialist who worked exclusively with our classrooms. His name was Allen. Teachers would make referrals to Allen for him to come out and observe their problem behavior children in order to determine if a full blown behavior evaluation was needed, or just some technical advice for the teacher. Most of the time, the mere presence of Allen sitting in the classroom and taking notes would be enough for the problem child to calm down and not display the particular problem behaviors. We gave this phenomenon a name – the “Allen Effect”. We joked about it a lot at meetings. One person proposed that we make big cardboard cut outs of Allen and stand them up in the classrooms to calm the children down.

Related to this was the fact that we had 25 teachers and classrooms in the program and much of the time we had 3 male teachers. Allen told me once that I and the the other two men made 75% less referrals for behavior than our female colleagues.

Bruce Sheppard
EI/ECSE Specialist
Salem, OR


The point of this story is very true. In fact, Montessorians have noticed for a hundred years that the fewer adults there are in the room and the more they sit calmly in one place, the greater calming effect it has on the room. There are a host of reasons–some more obvious than others.

The fascinating thing is, this is so true that it’s not only true of Allen, it’s true of all adults in the room–men, women, teachers and parents.

A teacher who whizzes busily about the room performing all kinds of beautifying and nurturing tasks and attending with instant wisdom to each little crisis invites imitative behavior from the children. Just imagine. A teacher otoh who sits calmly focussed and available in the same place, occasionally calling one or more children to his or her chair, models concentration and has a directly calming influence.

Lots of Montessori rooms have one-at-a-time parent observations by appointment or sign-up sheet on specified days. A parent who sits respectfully and answers briefly when spoken to quickly fades into the woodwork (even though their own child is present) and learns an enormous amount about the environment they’ve placed their child in. The parent who comes in with a Starbuck’s cup and cheerfully chirps clever questions and informational tidbits might leave the room feeling elated about the basic goodness of mankind, but leaves the teacher with a room that takes a day to get back to normalized behavior.

Guy Western
St. Paul, MN


I must say, over the last few days I have felt a little like a voyeur in this discussion group. While I have enjoyed the discussion I do feel like an outsider looking in. So first to give you some background information: I trained as an Early Years Teacher in New Zealand and then spent 10 years working in Child Care in Australia before moving to the UK where I taught in Nursery School before moving into HE where I lecture in early childhood studies. I joined this discussion group as I am currently setting out on a PhD which is primarily concerned with men as teachers / carers of young children.

I have found the personal experiences and “theories” put forward to explain them interesting, however the thought that crosses my mind is that here is a ‘bunch of adults’ trying to work out what children are thinking and why they are acting in the ways they do, from an adult perspective. This in my mind has been a limitation of much research in this area; in a review of the literature on men who work with young children, published in New Zealand Research in Early Childhood Education, I found that only 1% of the articles actually attempted to engage the views of children, however what literature there was cast doubts on the notion that children perceive males as acting as gender (or gendered) role models.

This would seem to me to be a ideal situation to attempt to engage with the voices of children to see if they perceive a difference in the discipline styles or skills of male and female teachers, I would be interested in hearing from anyone who would also like to follow this line of thinking. I would also be interested in any articles that actively attempt to engage with the voices of young children ( under 5’s) in an attempt to increase the percentage from 1%.

That said I am very intrigued by the thought that it might be the low masculine voice ‘rumbling across the the classroom savanna’, but how to test that theory?

Richard Harty


I taught in Swarthmore, PA in a Private Non-Profit Daycare for three years – all three with the same co-teacher. All the classrooms used the co-teaching model. Three of us presented a workshop after doing staff and child interviews exploring the effect of this non-hierarchical model on children. We used our classroom because of the male-female combination (the only such co-teachers).

As you suggest the most exciting part was the interview.

These children knew us well as it was family-grouped so children start at one or two years and stay in the room through preschool. We’d had many discussions about our ages, that we weren’t married (They finally got that when we visited Jeanne’s home and met her partner!), if we have pets, if we have kids, where we lived (other than in that church basement!).

We worked very hard to rotate all tasks to present ourselves as equal and we talked about how we would naturally ‘connect’ in our own, unique ways and that we shouldn’t resist that.

We brought in a teacher from another room and video-taped children’s responses to several questions. We ended up calling the workshop “Who’s the Boss?” because an epic battle came out of that one question. Children debated vigorously that Jeanne was the boss “because she’s older” versus “Gil’s the boss because he’s a man.”

When one quiet but well respected five year old girl suggested that we could both be the boss, all but one child were on board and completely satisfied that this matter was settled for good.

But then another sensei in a five year old body pleaded, “Actually we’re all the boss sometimes.”

This new conventional wisdom was their final answer.

That the discussion was so balanced made Jeanne and I feel we’d done well with the promotion of equality. I wish we could replicate this and also do follow ups to see how durable the “lesson” was. And how having a male/female balance influenced children’s view of the school experience, or life experience.


Salem, OR


Way back in 1981, I was co-teaching a kindergarten class at the Red Sneakers School in Reading, MA., USA. While the other teacher (Beth) led a discussion about some phase of American history, I began circulating among the kids, passing out small treats to only the boys. As soon as the kids caught the pattern, they quickly confronted me with the unfairness of the situation.

“But boys are better”, was my reply.

“Look at the pictures on the front of the newspaper – what do you mostly see – boys. Look in our (slightly antiquated) history books – again, it’s mostly men. Boys are better!”

then a small, female voice rose and asked, “Who writes those books?”

One of the favorite learning moments of my career.

Kitt Cox
Ipswich, MA


Teaching the young children is one of the most exciting things I have ever done. I feel very satisfied that I am helping these kids become complete well rounded people.

I am truly honored how ever to be part of what my frends and I call the male revolution.

That is that thare has not been any real movement to explore, understand and liberate men from the stereotypical restrants that our culture has placed on us.

I tell all my boys its ok to cry.

Carl Wesenfield


Exciting is the word, isn’t it?

I tell all my students, girls and boys, it’s alright to cry. I try not to intervene in that either. I don’t want to “jolly” them out of it. I want them to learn that they’ll feel better again on their own without anyone intervening to ‘make’ them feel better.

Along this line, one of the ways I counteract bullying and fighting is to tell the older boys not to jab their friends with pencils when something displeases them, but to use their words and, if that doesn’t work, come and tell one of the adults instead of hitting. But, then, when an older boy comes to an adult saying so-and-so did such-and-such to me, adults tend to be really dismissive, thinking “you’re big enough to take care of yourself”. I find myself falling into that trap and I have to remind myself that I TOLD that boy to restrain himself from becoming violent and tell me instead. . . and, now, he DID!

I should be rewarding that behavior with immediate attention–not to scold anyone but give some guidance in using words to settle the dispute. But it’s very easy to look at a smaller child’s threat to an older boy as the least of my problems, especially if I’m occupied. Women teachers, as a rule, are even less sympathetic. How many times have you heard, “oh, you’re a big boy”?

Guy Western
St. Paul, MN


I just wanted to thank everyone who took the time to comment on the power of a man’s voice in classroom management and direction.

After reviewing your comments and those of several women who work with me in my area, there seems to be a consensus that there really is something to the “power” of a man’s voice and his very presence in a classroom.

While I agree that a “man’s” voice can have a noticeable affect on young children, it should be considered a tool to help meet an objective, and not a cure all solution to behavior management. I still believe setting realistic boundaries and enforcing them consistently; forming trust bonds, using lots of positive reinforcement, and spending some quality time with each child are more important and effective than a projecting deep voice.

One of the most effective teachers we have in our area is a very soft spoken grandmotherly type whose class through the years has always been calm and compliant. Every year all 20 children seem to transition well, participate and follow directions. Many of my peers, men and women, recognize this teacher’s natural skills and we all wish we could emulate them ourselves.

I am also a man who does not allow rough housing. I always try to nip this behavior in the bud before it escalates and someone gets hurt or something gets broken. Rough housing may be a “natural activity” for boys (and some girls) but as we work towards social competence in a classroom setting, there is not much room for rowdy behavior. Our mantra has always been “hands are for helping, hands are for ourselves.”

Once again, we see the diversity of thought and styles of men in education.

What do you think?

Chuck Allen


Interesting, I approach this differently.

I try to help children learn to roughhouse with rules. The kind of rules that underlay your roughhousing with peers and parents when you were young.

We found an old double bed mattress and it was our wrestling mat (covered with a bedspread tucked in underneath for cleanliness.). We made rules with the children and added some of our own.

One of my favorites was that anyone could call time out at any time. You couldn’t wrestle without an adult supervising, only two kids at once, no hitting, kicking, spitting, pulling hair or in general fighting dirty, no shoes. There were a few other rules, but those give the basic picture.

If a child got upset we processed it. I had kids who wanted to wrestle badly, but all they knew was television wrestling, They had not learned how to roughhouse in a fun way without anyone getting hurt.

I thought we should help them learn how to do that. It was a great motivator for children with impulse issues – they wanted to wrestle so badly, but they knew if they wanted to, they had to obey the rules.

Michael Sandberg


I’ve experimented with bringing some structure to physical-contact play by introducing fundamental ta’i chi sensitivity training or ‘pushing hands’. I haven’t been able to arouse much natural interest, but this sounds like a great idea! Free play with a minimal number of basic rules to observe. I agree wholeheartedly with your approach, though. Self-control is different than self-suppression.

For older children, a great form of structured play with unparalleled ethics and great adult models is the sport of cricket. Check it out.

Guy Western
St. Paul, MN


I’ve had similar experiences on the rare occasions when I have worked in preschool settings, and have actually been complimented by a couple of understanding women on my willingness to let boys engage in rough play, even play fighting (what Stephen Pinker has called “practicing to compete violently for status”), and agree that important lessons about being male in our society are being learned.
I have to say, though, that in my usual Infant/Toddler setting, the issues are somewhat different.

First, I don’t percieve major gender-keyed behavioral differences until about 2.5 years (any studies on this that anyone knows of?);

Second, I have been perceived as “too nurturing” (not in so many words, but…) by some women co-workers, one of them the same woman who complimented me for allowing rough play.

Christopher Stetson