by JD Avallone, Co-facilitator

It was my privilege to co-facilitate the Men’s Interest Forum at the 2007 NHAEYC Annual Conference.  Sixteen students, teachers, directors and owners (15 female:1 male) joined us to discuss issues facing men in early childhood education (ECE). What unfolded during the discussion was beyond anything I could have hoped for! The group decided that if positive change is to be effected in the relationship between men and early childhood education then the idea of active recruitment and support must be extended to boys, fathers and potential teachers.  The concept that ECE is a place where anyone, including males of any age or role, can feel safe and successful needs to be inherent in our mission statements and daily practices.

–  Acknowledge that, while boys and girls are more alike than different, there are significant biological differences that ought to inform our expectations of and interactions with boys.  Just a few examples include lower impulse control, delayed ability to read non-verbal cues, hormone-supported active nature, difficulty connecting emotion to experience, and readiness to read roughly eighteen months behind girls.

–  Understand that while research shows that boys generally mature socially, emotionally, cognitively and reach puberty slower than girls it also shows that boys are are picked up six times less often when they cry and are magnets for harsh discipline.  Boys are thus shamed for their natural physical tendencies while denied the nurturing they need to overcome their biological makeup.

–  Introduce nurturing opportunities to boys consistently before age of ten (some research shows that there is a 60% chance of changing behavioral patterns before ten and at 10% chance after). Create relationships between classrooms in your center and, if possible, with an area elementary school.  Allow a few children at a time to simply sit or play with younger children. Let them struggle with managing the younger children’s challenging behaviors.  Offer encouragement and positive reinforcement with a spoonful of constructive criticism. For many, the best way to learn is to teach!!!

–  If you have a “Leader of the Day” in your classroom, perhaps change the title to “Teacher for the Day”.  You’ll get some great feedback from the kids about what they think a teacher’s job is.  This may also challenge your students’ perceptions of the gender assignment of teaching.

–  Create an environment in the mindset of recruiting and retaining DADS! Perhaps, we might make sure that pictures of dads playing with their children are posted in public areas as well as in the classroom.

–  Offer fathering workshops for dads with questions.  Bring in a guest speaker and allow the fathers to be alone with that person without the eyes of well-intentioned, yet intimidating administrators and staff around.

–  Dad and child play dates! Have a special event at your school designed just for fathers and their children including relay races, water balloon fights or nasty-food eating contests!  You might even consider adding in an interview game that let’s father and child explore each other’s experiences like “What’s your favorite thing to do with Mom?” or “If you could have any super power, what would it be and what would you do with it?”

–  Create universal precautions that apply to all staff for the protection of children from physical or emotional harm.  Special rules only for men, like men cannot change diapers or cannot change diapers without another teacher present, perpetuates the stereotype that men are not trustworthy.

–  Perhaps, create biographies for all teachers and have them available to parents when they’re deciding on your program. They will notice the gender makeup of your staff and can ask questions from the very beginning.

–  As coworkers of a male staff member, try to include his opinion when answering parents’ questions.  Whether the questions are about him personally or regarding the development of a child, give your coworker the opportunity have a voice and establish  working relations with parents.

–  Establish a rotating “greeter” role for teachers at the beginning and end of each day.  The role is to help children AND parents with transitioning, but mainly to have some face-to-face time with the parents.  By having this as a rotating role, we’re fostering relations between all parents and teachers while supporting men as they establish their classroom identity.

–  Childcare centers are going to need to play an active role in recruiting men as teachers if were going to see any change. They might consider putting up recruitment posters that say, MEN ENCOURAGED TO APPLY. They may also attend job fairs and promote the same idea at both the high school and college levels.

–  Education Departments could consider the same approach at college fairs.

A valuable lesson can be learned from the Men’s Interest Forum at the 2007 NHAEYC Annual Conference. Women make up 98% of the workforce in ECE in the United States. It is becoming more and more apparent that boys, fathers and male teachers feel a sense of discomfort in such a female dominated environment. The women at our Men’s Interest Forum set high expectations for the role of women in creating ECE environments that all males, regardless of age or role, can feel safe and successful.