The Same and Different – Gender Equity in Early Care and Education:

Part 4 in a series of essays:

Unfortunately, in the studies previously cited, while there is little evidence of a deleterious impact on children by male teachers, there is not a universal agreement that the presence of men provides measurable benefits to children. Recent research by Brandes, et al (2012), echoes such doubts, claiming that “with regard to the formal professional qualities of communication and activity… there are “no relevant gender effects” (Nelson, 2012).
While such recent studies may cast questions about improved outcomes for children from a gender-diverse teaching corps, an early study by Dawson (1971) found significant differences in outcomes for 4th grade fatherless boys based upon the gender of their teacher. In addition to academic performance the perception of disruptive behavior is reduced “by half” with a year with a male teacher (Dee, Thomas, 2006). Nelson observes that gender diversity supports curriculum diversity stating, “dependent on gender, different activities are carried out with the children, and different content areas served” (Nelson, 2012). Research by Owen, 2012, supports the suggestion that male teachers are up to the tasks of caregiving and engaging in quality relationships with young children – and that these male teachers may also provide a different approach to activities and a different emphasis in the implementation of curriculum while still meeting the curriculum goals for child development. This suggests that gender diversity of teaching staff carries little in the way of liability with regard to quality, while potentially providing a valuable diversity in the execution of curriculum.
Conversations of equity thrive in the presence of science and research. When MacNaughton et al (2010), included Susan Grieshaber’s article, Equity and Research Design, in their book, Doing Early Childhood Research, they invited reflection upon her statement, “Research is a cultural invention of the white Western male upper middle-class academic world…” Given that the American ECE profession is almost exclusively a design and product of the values and practices of professional white women – it is apparent that two, very powerful and inequitable biases are inextricably connected to our profession. Alan Guttman, drawing upon his golf analogy once again, explains it this way in an e-mailed message (March 25, 2013) to me: “Mind you that this ECE profession design and product is from “professional white women” living in, conforming to, reacting to, restricted by, funded or underpaid by, and dominated by, a world of Western White upper-middle class men – again my “golf analogy – in this case, white women, the break and grain of the green, are still subject to the larger influence of the world of white men, the overall tile/”bias” of the entire green. In a word: CONTEXT. Who knows – perhaps white men and women (and people – men and women – of color) would have created an entirely different ECE profession, had the world not been white male defined and dominated.”
When science and research do not address gender bias in ECE, and when the context of gender and privilege itself exists in a state of flux and stress – meaningful dialogue regarding equity, for practical and policy purposes, is unlikely.
Given this reality, it becomes essential that we, as a profession, not only reflect upon the consequences of such inequities but seek out the science and research that address the following questions:
• What does it mean to a boy go to institutions of learning for years without having a man as a teacher? I recently presented a workshop on the topic of diversity to a small group of family child care providers and preschool teachers. When I asked them to remember the grade of their first male teacher, it wasn’t until 5th grade that half the group was finally able to raise their hands. One family child care provider did not have a male teacher until 11th grade. Brandes, et al, 2012, found that while there were “no relevant gender effects… with regard to the formal professional qualities of communication and activity (between male and female teachers), indications can be found that, dependent on gender, different activities are carried out with the children, and different content areas served.” What might this mean to boys? To their interests? To the ways in which they engage with the learning environment?
• What does it mean for young children to go through their early years without a non-familial male role model? According to research, both boys and girls benefit from positive father figures. Educational attainment, behavior problems, and teen pregnancy rates have all been associated with the presence or absence of fathers (George, n.d.). Male role models may help mitigate the damage in the lives of children with absent fathers. According to Brett and Kate McKay, 2009, “mentors can expand one’s view of what it means to be a man.” Theodore Kokoros, 2012, says, “Men and women on average seem to interact with children differently, and children respond to them differently. This means men might be able to provide children with important experiences that they are currently missing out on.”
Furthermore, the presence of men appears to greatly impact girls, including their choices of activities, conversation habits with adults, and social relationships (Jensen, 1996).
• What is the true impact upon men who want to enter the early care and education profession to face so many obstacles? According to Theodore Kokoros, 2012, obstacles facing men include “societal stereotype(s) (and) low pay.” Other obstacles to men entering the field include a lack of male ECE instructors, mentors and, of course, classmates. When we focus our conversation to the challenge of recruiting men into ECE on the impact of low pay, we lose sight not only of the many obstacles facing men, but upon the meaning of these obstacles to men who might otherwise be interested in a career working with young children.
• What does it mean for the classroom learning environment, curriculum, daily schedule, behavior management strategies, and communication styles when they are designed without significant male input? While working at a Child Care Resource and Referral agency in Los Angeles County, I proposed the Male Involvement Rating Scale in order to stimulate conversation as to what a male-friendly learning environment might look like. Initially intended as a playful spin on traditional environmental rating scales, a number of advocates for men in early education expressed an interest in the tool. Their interest was often generated by experiences they had in which they felt disconnected or discriminated against in their ECE work environment. Learning environments that are sometimes referred to as boy-friendly learning benefit the development of boys and girls alike as well as the teachers that work with them.
More recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar hosted by the Bright Horizons Men In Early Care and Education (MECE) Advisory Group. In a real time survey, there was a very large disconnect between the strongest parts of the learning environment and the parts of the learning environment that were the most engaging to boys.
• What are the ramifications for our expectations for children when they are left to work out their understanding of gender, sexual identity and role absent the guidance and input of professional, trained, skilled and nurturing male role models? In an article by Hannah and Jane Katch, 2010, young children are captured contemplating and negotiating gender role and sex identity. They engage in remarkably complex conversations including everything from clothing, hair, and choices of areas to play as indicators of gender, but ultimately determine that it is the declaration of adults that have the final absolute say. During this negotiation of identity, they propose dividing the classroom environment into gendered learning areas. This process of inquiry with the emphasis upon adult as the final judge of sexual identity only strengthens the argument for the regular presence of adult males in the early learning environment. Given the consequences of our society’s current challenges in providing young children with positive male role models, this observation that children turn to adults to guide them in the development of their gender roles needs to be a matter of greater attention in the early childhood education courses that we teach.
While pursuing my Masters, I was, on occasion, reminded to be more mindful of citing the required readings. And yet, imagine my chagrin at reading and viewing resource after resource that skirts this critical anti-bias issue. There are wonderful leaders that might have made for fabulous interviews, recommended articles, and required readings – Bryan Nelson, Moises Roman, Alan Guttman, Barry Busswitz, Bruce Cunningham, Bruce Sheppard, Paul Sargent, Pedro Noguero, Geoffrey Canada, Jonathan Mooney, Ronald Mah, and Jeff Duncan-Andrade to name just a few that have influenced or inspired me.
Certainly the gendered early care and education profession meets any reasonable benchmark for bias. Paul Sargent, in his 2001 book, Real Men or Real Teachers?, found
that only 3% of K-3 teachers out of his sample of 2,002 were men. And as recently as 2011-2012, male teachers in public schools represented approximately 24% of all teachers, and less than 18% in Virginia and Mississippi (National Education Association, 2013). Unfortunately, the percentage of male teachers cascades downward with grade level: 9-16% of elementary school teachers (Kent, 2007), (Cox, 2008) down to an abysmal 2.3% of preschool and kindergarten teachers (Nelson, n.d.). Often times, teacher salaries reflect a decline related to student age and grade level as well. While certainly intriguing, whether or not a causal relationship exists between teacher gender, grade level assignment and salary is beyond the scope and intent of this paper.

And so, it is with a hope that future students, enrolled in infant/toddler programs through doctoral programs, might benefit from opportunities that we now take the time to seriously contemplate the need for an affirmative action plan for male engagement and set forth upon the daunting quest for gender equity.
For those of you that might be interested in learning more, links to references have been supplied when possible.


Brandes, H.; Andrä, M.; Röseler, W.; & Schneider-Andrich, P. (2012). Does gender make a difference? First results from the German ‘tandem study’ on the pedagogical activity of female and male ECE workers. Retrieved January 26, 2013 from
Cox, L. (2008). The mistrusted male teacher. ABC News. Retrieved February 26, 2013 from
Dawson, P. (1971). Fatherless boys, teacher perceptions, and male teacher influence: a pilot study. Oregon State System of Higher Education, Monmouth; Office of Education, Washington, DC.
Dee, T. S. (2006). Teachers and the gender Gaps in Student Achievement. The Journal of Human Research
George, B. (n.d.). Fatherlessness in America. Mora, MN.
Katch, H. & Katch, J. (2010). When boys won’t be boys: discussing gender with young children. Harvard Educational Review. 80(3) 379-390, 436.
Kent, T. (2007). Male elementary teachers growing scarce despite concerns. Minnesota State University, Mankato. Retrieved February 26, 2013 from
Kokoros, T. (2012). In the land of women: being a man in early childhood education. Retrieved January 26, 2013 from
Mac Naughton, G., Rolfe, S. A. & Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2010). Doing early childhood research: International perspectives on theory and practice. New York, NY
McKay, B. & McKay, K. (2009). Every man needs a mentor. Retrieved January 26, 2013 from
Nelson, B. G. (n.d.). Data about men teachers. Retrieved February 26, 2013 from
Nelson, B. G. (2012). Does gender make a difference? First results from the German ‘tandem study’ of female and male ECE workers. Retrieved March 14, 2013 from
Owen, K. J. (2012). Assessing the impact: the value of men as caregivers in early care and education a thesis presented to the faculty of San Diego State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Science in child and family development. San Diego State University
Sargent, P. (2001). Real men or real teachers? Men’s Studies Press. Harriman, Tennessee.


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