It is possible in our field of work that the biases we experience may impact our outlook on life and on work. We have many roles, only one of which is early educator. What happens when our life experiences encroach upon our work?
Having spent most of my life as an educator, it is safe to say that I have experienced biases as a result of my career choice. There is of course, poverty. I have slept on the floor, rented a room in a house, and gone into debt only to be saved by my mother! I have had cardboard boxes for furniture, even in a way scavenged for food. I have recycled bottles and cans for food money, sold off possessions, and have experienced the biases related to these things. I have experienced “class-ism”.
I have also been the only man in the room on more occasions than I would like to admit. I have felt like my communication style didn’t work, like my team style was out of place. I have been the man in the playground blacktop basketball game with the fellas that wasn’t quite confident about sharing what he did for a living. I have experienced and even imposed upon myself – sexism/gender-ism.
I have been followed in stores and even detained by police after being accused by a shopkeeper of shoplifting. I believe this was due to racism.
These many issues detract from an individual’s sense of empowerment and independence. They have, in my situation resulted in strained relationships with loved ones and even resulted in conflict at work.
Not too long ago, after repeated incidents in which I felt disconnected and disempowered at work, I “lost it”, storming out of the workplace. I had grown exhausted of the culture of the place, a culture informed entirely by women… a team style and communication style informed entirely by women. In a program serving approximately 500 children, I was one of four men. The second was a site supervisor, the third was a classroom teacher and the fourth worked in the kitchen and delivered the meals.
-Isms are exhausting. They strain relationships and cast doubt on even the best of intentions. I’m still recovering from the stress. I readily admit that I drink too much. I am argumentative and increasingly territorial. I have become sensitive to criticism in a way that I wasn’t in my younger days.
Thus far, I believe that I have for the most part kept it out of the classroom. I have always had excellent attendance. However, on at least two occasions, children and/or parents have seen or overheard me during an angry outburst. Recognizing that the behavior was unprofessional and inappropriate didn’t help – as the genesis of my frustration was not considered or mitigated.
Children need teachers that are socially and emotionally healthy. And yet, we, as a society place them in extremely stressful positions – economically, professionally, socially. Men in ECE in particular bear a huge burden that largely remains unseen and unaddressed.
There are certainly no easy answers. And teachers, imperfect to begin with, face added pressures of class, race, gender, as well as issues of academic attainment. Tomorrow’s ECE teacher promises to look less and less like the children and families as academic rigor and standards replace the art of teaching. Too bad.
I haven’t learned anything in this class except maybe the terms for concepts that I have long understood. But the letters after my name are supposed to help me one day. I wonder though… how many of us, people of color, first or second generation college students… how many of us will be left standing after the student loans and $12 an hour jobs? Those are the questions that I have for the leaders in the field and for policy makers.
When do the -isms we face destroy our spirit and thereafter the spirit of the children?