If asked to describe a preschool teacher, your description would probably be of a gentle, caring woman reading stories, singing educational songs and serving snacks. Do you ever picture a man leading these same activities?
In a career dominated by women, it’s easy for a man to feel frustrated and disheartened with the lack of male presence in the early education world. The percentage of women working in the field was a staggering 98 percent, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study. Many early education professionals have lamented the fact that there is such a large gender gap in the field, as young kids are in need of male role models and crave the attention of a father-figure.
Before you decide to avoid the profession all together due to the cultural stereotypes, hear what the experts have to say. We asked male early childhood educators a few questions to help shed some light on the situation.
What is it like to be a man in working in a 'female profession'?
It can be easy to assume that an early education position could feel emasculating to a man or make him feel incompetent, as the profession is so heavily controlled by women. There is much to consider when working as a teacher, and connecting with both the parents and their kids is highly important.
“I think the biggest struggle I face being a director is how surprised parents are when they realize a male is the director,” says Jay Condon, director at the Child Development Center at Blue Cross Blue Shield of MN. He says he often has to stress to parents that he is capable of all of the same responsibilities as his female counterparts. He admits it’s a bit irritating knowing they wouldn’t question him at all if he was of the opposite gender.
“It isn’t that child care is a woman’s position but simply a position filled mostly by women,” says Mike Desens, director at Bright Horizons. He points out that today’s culture expects men to be more active fathers, uncles, grandfathers and coaches, so why should it be any different in the classroom? He insists our society needs to do a better job of acknowledging the competence of male teachers in a field statistically dominated by women.
Did you have any trouble getting hired?
Contrary to what you may think, many early education organizations and schools are actively seeking qualified men to hire. Condon says he has never experienced issues getting interviews or job offers.
Early education experts state that young children need positive male role models and that being a male preschool teacher in this female-ruled industry can benefit students. The odds may be stacked against you in regard to stats and popular opinion, but when it comes to landing the job, your gender (and the lack of it in the field) may actually work in your favor.
What are the advantages of being a male preschool teacher?
The truth is that there are many benefits to working in the early education field. Condon says he loves having a direct impact on early childhood on a daily basis. “I always tell people that when I have a bad day, I get to go play Legos,” he jokes.
Desens says children are very aware of what’s different in a classroom. He believes a good male teacher will be remembered by children, spoke about often and even favored by parents. “I also think many men have the ability to channel [their] inner-child in ways that the kids adore,” he adds.
Every teacher—male or female—is different. Your unique skills and characteristics will have an immediate impact on the kids in your care. As a man, you’re influence on children will be different but of equal importance as that of a woman.
What are the drawbacks of being a male preschool teacher?
Men do experience some disadvantages working in early childhood education, many of which relate to skill and the responses of others.
“Men aren't known to be inherent nurturers, so our responses may be too harsh at times,” says Rodney Jordan, a teacher who is certified pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. He admits that the “just shake-it-off” attitude he and many other men possess isn’t always the best response.
Other male early childhood professionals explain that it can be challenging to navigate workplace relationships and politics.
Other early childhood professionals explain that being one of the only males in a statistically female-dominated arena can be challenging in regards to workplace relationships and politics. “The volume of women versus men in the field can sometimes magnify the perception of a ‘slight’,” says Desens. He says it’s easy to feel ganged up on when your opinions or methods don’t align with the majority.
Most men in this profession agree that the personal satisfaction and reward outweigh the negative aspects of the job. Condon shares that he’s seen families avoid enrolling their children at his center solely because he’s a male. But at the end of the day, he doesn’t let those situations bother him.
“I do not have any cons to my job. I really enjoy it,” Condon insists.
Are you ready to make an impact?
Men, are you ready to influence the lives of children and take a stand for reversing a stereotype that’s hounded the early education profession for years? You can prove to your friends and family that there’s nothing wrong with a male preschool teacher!
More importantly, the first few years of childhood development are crucial, meaning you could make a lasting impact on children’s lives. There’s no reason your gender should deter you from pursuing such a rewarding career.
Now that you’re convinced you have what it takes to succeed in the classroom, check out this guide to becoming a preschool teacher!