“… teachers’ words and the way they use them create meaning for children as well as for themselves.” – Julie Rainer Dangel and Tonia Renee Durden, 2010
In any place that demographic inequities exist to the degree they do in ECE, power relationships are imbalanced and institutions themselves are to some extent compromised. The potential for bias cuts not simply a wide swath – but the entire landscape. Classroom environments… conflict resolution strategies… communication and team cultures… parent engagement strategies… the professional development, recruitment and retention of male teachers… even the research and reflection that informs our profession are possible victims of bias given the gaping disparity between the numbers of men and women in all aspects of the field.
Peter Moss, 2000, exhorts us, “Taking the question of gender seriously and openly is one way into a deeper discussion about what the work is and the qualities it requires… the current invisibility of gender, not just for staff, but also often in relation to children and parents, precludes an important area of practice and reflection on practice.”
The virtually assumed gendered nature of early education leads to unconscious biases that color research. Consider for example the implications of the “Clark Doll Studies” and their subsequent iterations conducted to demonstrate racial preferences of young children as they manifested themselves through the selection of black or white dolls. These studies, repeated over decades by a variety of researchers have been questioned. Were researchers measuring racial preference or some other attribute of the dolls? Were the child responses informed by the race of the interviewer? Did the gender of the dolls (typically female dolls) limit the validity of the studies as they related to the gender of the child? Were the responses of the children indicative of child preferences, or a measure of larger social relationships? (Louie, 2000).
It is a near reach to extend this line of reasoning to research on gender. How are child behaviors and attitudes related to the gender of the teacher? How are child assessments influenced by the gender of the teacher? Do the behaviors of the children reflect gendered differences alone or do they reflect the interaction between gender and any number of attributes previously described and defined by the gendered nature of the early care and education profession?
While definitive answers to those rarely asked questions lie beyond reach at this moment, there are a few common sense things that we can do to address the gendered ECE world which we currently inhabit. In order to contradict the stereotypes associated with men and children, I would encourage my colleagues to implement a number of strategies.
For the fathers/families:
• Have as an expectation that fathers participate in parent conferences.
• Provide a variety of ways for parents to volunteer and/or contribute to the program, including opportunities to volunteer in evenings and on weekends.
• Pay for the membership in a professional or parent association for at least one parent per classroom, including fathers. This will provide them with resources and information that will support their becoming “experts” in parenting and/or childhood.
• Encourage participation by fathers in your parent council or parent association. Invite them to apply for leadership positions.
• Commit to quarterly Bring a Dad to School Days. These should be promoted widely and valued by the entire school community as important days.
• Adjust the Daily Schedule to provide for arrival and departure times to be conducted outdoors to the greatest degree possible and appropriate. Many teachers report that fathers are more inclined to engage with their children and staff more extensively when arrival and departure times take place in environments in which they feel comfortable.
• Assess the Parent handbook for signs of gender bias.
For the boys/children:
• Invite experienced male teachers to assess the learning environment and teacher practices for gender equity, just as one would assess the learning environment for diversity in matters of race, family form, language, and ability.
o For example, does the dramatic play area have props that support the participation of boys?
o Are there opportunities for appropriate and supervised risk and active play?
o Does language honor gender preferences?
• Encourage local male high school students to volunteer at your program to fulfill their community service requirements. Mentor and respect these students. Seek input from them on their perspectives.
• Evaluate progress on child assessments to determine whether boys were succeeding at a rate comparable to the girls. Make the adjustments necessary to address any gaps that may be identified.
For the male teachers and fathers:
• Post photographs of the fathers and important male role models for the children prominently on parent boards and in the lobby.
• Display posters that promote the value of male involvement such as the NAEYC brochure-posters, Involving Men in the Lives of Children (out of print) and Careers for Men in Early Childhood Education.
• Assess your program using one of the available Male Involvement rating tools. An example can be found at CAEYC’s web site: http://caeyc.org/main/caeyc/proposals-2014/pdfs/Uba,%20Gregory_Sat-2.pdf
For the male teachers:
For those programs lucky enough to have men already on staff, perhaps the simplest place to begin an initiative to increase their participation begins here.
• Post the bios for the teachers prominently so that everyone can see that our male teachers are highly qualified.
• Appoint male teachers to assignments in community activities, task forces, etc related to early care and education.
• Pay for the membership in a professional association for staff, including male staff.
• Assess the Employee Handbook for signs of gender bias and make the appropriate corrections.
For potential male teachers (recruitment):
While the recruitment, retention and development of male teachers will be discussed a bit more later on in this paper, a quick look at some suggestions for their recruitment follows:
• Post employment opportunities in places likely to attract the attention of candidates from related fields such as health, physical education, psychology, recreation, sociology, and youth and family services.
• Whether using human resource search sites or postings on local college campus bulletin boards, include welcoming language such as “men highly encouraged to apply”.
• For those programs with multiple centers, tour candidates through a center with men teachers already present in order to demonstrate your agency’s commitment to men as teachers.
• Make sure to formally introduce new male hires to existing men on staff.
• Let local college professors know if you have experienced men teachers on staff. Let these professors know that your male teachers are available to speak to classes on their experiences as men in early care and education. Men, it’s up to you to make every effort to be available when such opportunities arise.
For Directors, College Instructors, and Professional Associations:
Directors and instructors are among the first formal gatekeepers that a man encounters on his journey to a career in the early care and education profession. As such, it is critical that these leaders in our field have an understanding of the challenges related to the absence of men in the early care and education environment. For these leaders in particular, there are a number of ways to help.
• Consider quality through the lens, not only of educational background and experience, but also through the perspective of diversity and equity. Consider not only your program’s educational goals for children, but the social-emotional and social justice goals as well.
• Directors and instructors, through communication and collaboration can bring expert male educators to the college classroom as guest presenters. This is a particularly valuable strategy when there are male students or when there are few male instructors. An important consideration is that introductory child development and ECE courses often have male students that are taking the course for related majors outside of ECE. A meaningful connection with an experienced male teacher might be enough to interest these students in consider a career in early care and education.
• College instructors, by going into the community and meeting directors and family child care providers, benefit by the opportunities to connect with the very delivery system for which they are preparing their students. During such visits, make it a point to identify male teachers that demonstrate leadership skills and expertise. Extend to these men an invitation to present to your classroom. College instructors and trainers must also reflect upon the possibility that the curriculum, materials/texts, and instructional approach itself may be gendered – and they must take proactive measures to address such biases.
• For communities where directors get together regularly and in colleges where student associations or campus clubs exist for ECE students – explore the possibilities of developing cohort or affinity groups for male teachers and students. Make sure that these groups have opportunities to do meaningful work and to make contributions to the practice of the community.
Professional associations also frequently act as gatekeepers. A professional association that is welcoming and inviting to men puts itself in a position to develop men into widely recognized leadership roles in their community.
• Assess the leadership culture of your local professional association. Is it inviting to men?
• Create a committee that is dedicated to representing the needs and interests of men in early care and education.
• Consider whether or not your association has roles and responsibilities that might be inviting to men, including men that might be in the early stages of their leadership development trajectory. For example, an assignment to development a web page, online social network presence, or position statement might be more inviting to many men (and women) than the more traditional roles and responsibilities.
Dangel, J. R. & Durden, T. R. (2010). The nature of teacher talk during small group activity. YC Young Children. Washington DC. NAEYC.
Louie, T. A. (2000). A study of social issues that influence racial preference: a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Counseling, School Psychology. California State University, Northridge.
Moss, P. (2000). Workforce issues in early childhood education and care. Presented at the Institute for Child and Family Policy, Columbia University, May 11-12, 2000. Institute of Education University of London.