It's been said before right?
"There aren't enough men in Early Childhood." They say.
"I'd love to have a man in my centre." They say.
"We're all about diversity." They say.
"Early childhood education is a profession that embraces teachers from all cultures, genders, and ages." They say.
The cries for more diversity in early childhood have echoed for more than a decade now, but the make up of early childhood teachers has remained largely the same. Here are some international statistics for you to digest...
Out of 25,284 Early Childhood Teachers:
494 or 1.98% are men (all ethnicities included)
24,788 or 98% are women.
17,918 or 68% are white women.
2,267 or 8.9% are Maori (tangata whenua or indigenous people)
Note: Not even 10% of the total number of teachers in New Zealand are Maori where 22.8% of all children enrolled in ECE are Maori.
Out of 36,400 Early Childhood Teachers
700 or 2% men (all ethnicities included)
97.1% are women (all ethnicities included)
Median age for ECE teachers - 40 Years.
Out of 424,400 Early Years Teachers.
2% (8488 approx.) are men.
98% (415,912 approx.) are women.
86.33% of all teachers (men and women) are white.
Average Age: 35 - 40 years.
Out of 441,000 Early Childhood Teachers.
2.3% (10,143) are men.
97.7% (430857) are women.
78% are white.
If I were an artist, my picture would be beginning to look very white, very female, and very middle aged right about now.
So what's the big deal? So what if more than 65% of the early childhood teaching landscape in 4 of the more progressive nations in the world in relation to early childhood education are white women? Well to me it doesn't really show any great progress.
The statistics for men in New Zealand teaching in early childhood has remained almost the same for the past 5 years. Men teaching in early years programmes in the United Kingdom increase by 1.6% per year on average. Pacific and Maori teachers in New Zealand come third and fourth to White and Asian teachers - where Pacific and Maori learners are considered to be the most 'at risk.'
The word balance is a word we like to use a lot. A balance of male and female teachers to match the gender balance among children enrolled in early childhood services. To me it is more than just balance though, it is about representation - and even though balance and representation may seem like the same kind of term...they're not.
In a socio-cultural approach which is what most 'western' curriculum follows, culture plays a deep rooted role in the development of children. Added to this, the social norms that come with the individual cultures that children identify with are where they form their first ideas, their initial philosophies about the world around them from. But how can children get a true sense of their 'out of home' environment and how they fit into it if it looks nothing like what their home looks like? Posters, displays, printed words, and flags only go so far as to acknowledge where children and their ancestors come from, but what ties it all together are the people and even though we as observers of the culture try as hard as we do to learn parts of the language and cultural underpinnings, we naturally come second to the authentic representation of their language and world view.
We also like to talk about role-models and children having aspirations for themselves. Though how can they view themselves as potentially successful and having opportunity when they see a lack of people of the same culture being given the same opportunity? And if we think non-white teachers are under-represented as teachers, as middle and upper management it is even worse. The question then becomes, is it that there aren't enough teachers working in early childhood that are from 'other' cultures putting their hands up for more senior positions or is it a lack of skill and talent that prevents non-white teachers from climbing the management/leadership ladder? Of course it isn't. From experience, it is more about 'who you know.' We often feel more comfortable working alongside people who are like we are. Which is why a lot of men often feel out of place in an early childhood centre that is made up of mostly women and I would assume vice versa. The same perspective exists culturally, spiritually, and in groups of people the same age as well. We often find those that most closely resemble us more relatable and at times easier to work with.
Being a man I guess I have a bit of expertise when it comes to being the minority in the workplace, especially where leadership and trying to climb the leadership ladder is concerned.
2% is a lonely number, especially when you consider that it represents only 494 men out of 25,284 teachers. Upon asking the question about asking what the benefits are of having more men teaching in early childhood on Facebook recently, the feedback related to both the work we do with children and how the team functions with a low percentage of men contributing to them.
Imagine if we were to translate those numbers for the children in our centres. If 2% of our rolls were boys, or Pacific Island, Maori, Aboriginal, Native American, African American, Latino, Jamaican, Afghanistan, Indian etc. How would they view their place in that environment, how would they find that familiarity, the commonality between where they are from, their perspectives, their life story and those around them?
The same applies to men in early childhood. And it also applies to young men, first career choosers and early childhood education being a viable, lifelong career for them. They are aware that early childhood is a profession heavily dominated by white women, and a common question they would naturally ask themselves is 'would I really fit in?' They could have all the interest in the world when it comes to working with children but if they are unable to see themselves working alongside other like-minded teachers, they are significantly less likely to choose teaching as a career. And you might say when reading this....tough bananas....but the key is working toward equal representation. As close to 50% men as possible and representation as close to the percentage of children from different cultures as possible.
So now that we all agree that we need to work toward the goal of equal representation - how do we get men and people from different cultures into ECE?! Fairly easy but it takes a concerted effort:
- Change how we think about men in early childhood. We are far more than human jungle gyms; our teaching repertoire can be limitless if given the opportunity.
- Make some realistic goals e.g. 10% of people enrolled in early childhood degrees are men, 20% are Maori/Pacific Island/Native American etc.
- Approach your employer (Private, government....doesn't matter) and ask to create a pathway programme for local high school students into your centre/organization. Visit local high schools, target those groups we are interested in raising participation by, provide info to Universities and any scholarships available, offer mentoring (create a Facebook group, website, Gmail group etc.) or better yet, in the effort of trying to create diversity in our field, ask your employer to acknowledge your innovative idea and passion for your profession and get a paid day off per week to spend the day hosting group discussions with local high school students to convince them that early childhood is THE career for them.
- Request Universities to create fair representation on their marketing materials for men, women, and people from different cultures so that prospective teachers don't just see white women on their prospectuses.
- Become an advocate - Individually we are capable of lifting the diversity among teachers in early childhood, but we have to lift our voices above our screens. Talk to people at your churches, in your temples, at your sporting clubs and events....make early childhood seem far too good to refuse. If you talk about it, they will come.
The key in creating diversity is taking the necessary steps toward the vision, not standing still.