JD Avallone - Massachusetts AEYC

A small contingent of childcare professionals met recently at the MassAEYC Annual Conference to share their thoughts on the history, present circumstances and future of men in early education. Roughly 600 people attended the conference between Friday and Saturday. Thirty participated in the two sessions held on this topic. Discussion stemmed, at both sessions, from that precise phenomenon: “Where are all the men and does it really matter?”

Here is a synopsis of our findings (in no particular order of importance):

Where are all the men?
-Low starting salaries (same pay in elementary education as high school, however, there is a much greater deficiency in the presence of men at the elementary level)
-Status: low perceived power and respect
-Perception that social services are for women
-Lack of active recruitment by education departments and childcare centers
-Most men say that they didn’t like school. Why would they want to go back?
-Potential tension with predominantly female co-workers
-Perception that men who work with young children are homosexual and/or sexual predators
-Lack of experience interacting with young children
-Potential tension with parents, particularly fathers

Do men offer something significantly different enough for their presence to matter?
-Diverse perspective
-Fathers can learn from male caregivers
-Fills a void which, in itself, perpetuates the stereotype that men do not belong in early education
-Might alleviate the strain of an impending teacher shortage reported in a recent Boston Globe editorial
-A positive source for helping both boys and girls comprehend “what it means to be a man”
-Natural way to integrate the interests and learning styles research shows to be more prevalent in males

What are potential consequences of a movement to recruit more men as early childhood educators?
-Could send a message that woman are not capable or have not been doing a satisfactory job
-Could create a dangerous dichotomy between men and women in the field

How do we go about creating positive regard for men in the early education while recruiting more?
-Fall men’s retreat
-“Men’s forums” at all New England AEYC events
-Depicting male staff in catalogs and packaging of childcare products
-Organize a MenTeach branch in New England
-Create support links at EEC, MAAEYC websites
-Programmatic leadership in recruiting men as teachers
-Lobby to have EEC legislation amended to include “gender” as a desirable part of workforce diversity
-Continue discussing this online through emails and discussion boards like those found on MenTeach.og
-Establish mentor relationships between boys in elementary schools and childcare programs.
-Response to recent Boston Globe editorial about impending teacher shortage. Could promoting male teacher training help deal with this?
-Foster a unified effort with women and the GLBT community

The session at MassAEYC left me with two impressions. First, there are passionate people in the Northeast who are dedicated to children and our future, and they believe that men in early education make a difference. Second, the jury is still out on whether enough people will follow their lead to create social change. I am, personally, dumfounded by how we might overcome a culture that pays me twice as much to clean tables at chain restaurant as it does for me to help educate and nurture its children.