Our society is in the midst of a shift in gender role expectations. Traditional norms of man as breadwinner and woman as nurturer no longer apply in a world that expects us to do both. Yet only 3% to 4% of early childhood educators are males and since the mid-1970’s their numbers have been progressively declining (National Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2003).
As our nation’s oldest and largest early childhood professional organization and preeminent early childhood program accrediting body, the National Association for Young Children (NAEYC) presents a front-line venue for diversity efforts targeting men to work with young children age birth through age 8 years old.
The Hawaii Association for the Education of Young Children (HAEYC), in collaboration with the Hawaii Baptist Early Childhood Association (HBECA), sponsored the Men in Education Network (M.E.N.) Retreat specifically for male early childhood educators on Saturday, October 9, 2004.
The event took place at the Norman Home for Healing overlooking Aloha Tower and the Honolulu Harbor.
The following is a letter written by an attendee at the retreat, Mr. Roberto Reggio, to teacher colleagues and administrators at the University of Hawaii Children’s Center:
October 11, 2004
This past weekend I attended a retreat sponsored by the HAEYC exclusively for men who work with young children. There were eighteen men in attendance. They came from the Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu.
Most worked in private, public, and Hawaiian Immersion pre-schools as administrators, director-teachers, teachers, teachers’ assistants, and aides. One attendee, who began volunteering one day a week in an early childhood program following his retirement, now works there five days a week because he loves it so much.
Another man facilitates visits for male prisoners with their young children, and one more works for the Hawaii Coalition for Dads promoting involved, nurturing, and responsible fatherhood.
The most interesting thing for me was that not one of these eighteen men initially intended to work with young children. For one reason or another, we all just sort of fell into it. It impressed me how dedicated, passionate, and articulate these men were about what we do.
Each of our stories was similar. After falling into early childhood education, each of us fell in love with what it offers: The opportunity to be creative, nurturing, caring, loving, and to offer young children a different perspective and experience by virtue of our gender.
None fretted over the low wages, cared that friends and family often do not understand, or considered our supposed suitability for administrative positions to be an advantage. There was a palpable feeling in that room that we had discovered a secret. We did not want to keep silent, but rather share what we had learned with our brothers and society.
Spending your days with young children is glorious! It fascinated me that we spent seven hours together and I heard no talk of sports, cars, tools or beer. It wasn’t always serious. There was a lot of laughter, but the day was purposeful, focused, and sincere.
I did not hear one joke or remark at the expense of women. I have been in this profession that I did not seek for over twenty-five years. Although I have always loved what I do, at times I have felt lonely.
This past Saturday was one of the greatest days of my professional life. I got to hang with seventeen guys who see it the way I see it. We defy the roles society dictates for us. We struggle to be better teachers, to be true to ourselves as men, and to be included.
I am not as lonely as I was a week ago.
You can probably guess at some of the topics we discussed:
-Recruiting, retaining, and supporting men in the profession
-What do males bring to early childhood education?
-What do males take from early childhood education?
-Dealing with accusations/expectations of abuse
-Gender stereotyping for both males and females
-Raising wages and benefits for both men and women
-Building classroom environments that reflect both male and female energies
-The influence of male teachers on father involvement –
Books and resources for men in early childhood education.
I could go on for pages recounting what we spoke of and the conclusions that we reached. But for me this retreat was important for its context, not its content: Men’s deep voices speaking softly of early childhood.
Mr. Roberto Reggio
A 2005 two-day retreat and other HAEYC M.E.N. events are already in the planning stages for members and non-members alike. If you did not attend the first retreat and are interested in receiving notification of upcoming events, please get in touch with HAEYC with your name and contact information.
Donald Piburn HAEYC M.E.N.