I am a male in early childhood education, and have been the only male in my program since I decided to go into education. Not one – no, not ONE other guy – is in early childhood education at a University with 3,500 students. I am the lone, solitary male in a majority of my classes and have to speak up for the male perspective of which I am not the ideal candidate (who would be?).
The fact that I’m the only guy in early childhood education should not register an “Aww!” in the crowd. I shouldn’t be looked at as a leader and a social change agent. I’m one man trying to teach one class of students. I’m not going to be the first male ever in this setting and I won’t be the last. I was one of three male teachers in the building during my student teaching and I was asked question on the male experience, questions I have no real claim to answer. I should be viewed as a teacher, nothing more, nothing less. My motivation to teach comes from my students and their amazing ability to challenge me everyday. They push me just as much as I push them.
Some people say teaching is the easy route to take. Anyone can be a teacher. It’s a fallback for most people. It’s the profession you only need 5 weeks of preparation for. It’s the profession where you get three months off. It’s a last resort profession. It’s only a profession for women. It’s not a real career. I’ve heard a variation of all of these comments at one time or another. All are false, and all are predicated on the notion that being a teacher is easy and that if women can do it then it must not be for men.
First off, early childhood education is one of, if not the most, demanding job out there today. You have 20-30 children to keep track of. You have to know their strengths, weaknesses, and interests, and use all of that to impart worthwhile lessons. You’re everything that child needs and more for 8 hours, five days a week. Nothing compares to this profession and nothing will. This is far from an easy job and to describe it as such is extremely unjustified and steeped in ignorance.
Secondly, early childhood education is not a one-gender profession. Yes, more women go into the field than men; in fact only 21.2% of kindergarten, elementary, and middle school teachers are male (2013, US Bureau of Labor Statistics), does this mean it’s a woman’s profession? No profession should be gendered, if you have the heart and determination, do what you want to do. I’m in early childhood education because I love the classroom and the kids. I’m comfortable there like nowhere else. Does this make me effeminate or less of a man? No.
More men need to be a part of early childhood education not because children are lacking a male role model in those early years – although that may be the case sometimes – there needs to be more men in early childhood education because I’m hard pressed to believe so few men want to be teachers. Something is blocking their path toward teaching, and I believe it’s our societal belief that child care and teaching is effeminate and women oriented. I went into early childhood education because I love teaching kids, but society thinks I do it for the girls, because it was the easy path, or because I just wasn’t smart enough to teach high school. This thought that men going into early childhood education only for the girls was definitely a part of my higher education. On the social media app YikYak (do not download it, it’s useless and harmful, more than helpful and uplifting), one particular Yak was about me. It read: “well done to the dude sitting in front of Olin with his class. #numbersgame” The person was referencing a student teaching seminar that my fellow classmates and I had to take. On this particular day we had class outside, and as I stated above I was the only male. Now I know the Yak was meant to be lighthearted and funny, but it perpetuates this idea that I teach for the social implication that I would be more attractive to women and that I would be around more women. Again this is false and is predicated on the belief held in our society that early childhood education is babysitting and what man, in a society so wrapped in the idea that anything related to children is feminine, would want to go into the profession?
So, to all the men who want to become teachers, next time you hear “Aww!” when explaining what you do for a living, set the record straight. We don’t do it for anything other than the love of the classroom. It’s not less manly to care about another individual, to care for another individual, or to so invest your time in another individual that you spend the majority of your time worrying about them. Manliness is an ever-changing term and it isn’t something that should be coveted: it should be something that changes with the times. It’s about time manliness includes teaching.
Conor is currently a senior studying Early Childhood Education at Bucknell University and plans to attend Columbia’s Teachers College in the Fall to be certified in Special Education. His goal is to become an advocate for students with special needs just like his school and family were for him.