In October, three men joined the Hunt Institute’s Dan Wuori to discuss what it is like to be one of “the few, the proud”: a man working in early childhood education. The panel stressed the importance of men in this profession and how to make it more accessible and appealing for male professionals.
Here are our top five takeaways:
1. The early childhood education workforce is overwhelmingly female. Men represent 3% of the workforce; of those practitioners, about 44% exit within five years, Wuori reported. This stubborn statistic plays a significant role in how men are perceived in the classroom. “I felt societal views encroaching on my work,” Dr. Calvin Moore of the Council for Professional Recognition explained of his time as a first-year Head Start teacher, “I felt the strange looks, the turning of the heads when they passed me in the hallway. They were surprised that I was teaching.”
2. Male teachers may feel compelled to take extra precautions. “With men hired in education, specifically in the early grades and early childhood education, you have to be very cognizant and aware of who you are and how you present,” said Edward Manuszak of the Washtenaw (Mich.) Intermediate School District. He taught kindergarten for eight years and then transitioned to administration. He described some measures he takes to make his classroom, staff and families feel comfortable, such as home or neutral setting visits to build rapport with families, and having another adult present whenever possible, especially if aiding a child after an injury. “There is a real concern as a male in ECE that we don’t have that capability,” Manuszak said.
3. Society should normalize male participation in early child care education. These men are professionally trained to be in care positions and should be trusted to execute. “When I earned my credential,” Moore said, “it says to the community where I’m serving that I’m a professional, and whatever skills and abilities that profession trained me to do, I should be able to exercise that in my career.” Black men are even less likely to enter the early childhood education field, something Moore attributes to external pressure, “I think that Black men are somewhat more sensitive to societal views about early childhood education.”
4. Recruitment and retention efforts are under way. Programs around the country are trying to attract Black men to the field. “We’re needed in the field in certain communities, and so we have to change the narrative for those men, whether they’re in high school or college, thinking about careers,” Moore said, citing My Brother’s Teacher Fellowship Program at the University of Washington as a positive example of this work. Wuori acknowledged the difficulty of attracting, retaining and paying staff, noting, “Right now, the early childhood workforce is struggling mightily with a compensation challenge across the board, and frankly, it is difficult to attract teachers, male or female, partly because of compensation.”
5. Passion and support are imperative. “You do have to be passionate about it,” said Michael Marshall, who teaches at Cottonwood Elementary School in Yakima County, Wash. “You can’t just hire a male teacher just because he’s a man. I think that’s going a step backward. We need good teachers, men and women, and passionate ones.” Marshall has taught kindergarten for a decade and attributes this success to his classroom and coworkers. “I enjoy seeing the kids every day. Their smiles, their tears, whatever it may be.” The supportive staff makes a difference to his happiness and longevity in the role. “I don’t feel like I have to go to this job. I get to go,” he said.
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.