If you’re a man who has been put off by the stereotypes, you should really reconsider a career in early years education, says the Secret Practitioner…
It’s finally time to reveal something about my identity – in case you hadn’t guessed from reading my previous columns, I am that rarest of creatures, a male childcare practitioner.
Frequently, people express surprise that I, a man, would ever want to work in a nursery. Sometimes, they’re surprised that settings would ever deign to hire a man.
But I’m going to come right out and say it, even if I have a very good reason to be biased.
I think having men in childcare is absolutely great. It’s something we need to see more of.
No attributes are exclusive to one gender, but men often have different ways of doing things when it comes to children.
Whether it’s engaging in conversation, playing games outdoors or reading a story at circle time, men are noticeably different from women.
I don’t mean that men do things better or worse than women, just differently. And variety in childcare is almost always a good thing!
I think it’s highly beneficial for children to be cared for by adults of both genders. Times have changed, family dynamics are different and we have to remember that some children have no men in their lives.
I find children not used to seeing men normally have one of two reactions when I walk in the room: pure joy or pure terror.
There are those children who see a man and immediately want to climb all over him, ask for piggy-back rides, swing on his arms and generally have a little bit of rough play.
On the other side of the coin there are some children, normally, in my experience, little girls, who might be frightened of a male practitioner.
Actually I see both of these outcomes as positive. In the former case, we have children enjoying themselves and interacting with adults in a way that’s different from what they normally experience.
Often, I find that men are better suited to this kind of play.
Preschoolers can be really big and heavy, and a tall man like me is perhaps better equipped to really get to grips with these kids.
Frightened children can be a little more challenging, but every child I’ve met who has been scared of me because I’m a man has eventually warmed to me. It’s proved to be a positive learning experience for these children, who end up having the benefit of a positive male role model.
Despite all the positives, being a man in childcare can be problematic. A couple of times in my career parents have specifically asked for me not to change their child’s nappy.
It’s a bit perturbing to be thought of as untrustworthy in that regard, but as a colleague once said to me, there’s no point getting too upset about one less nappy to change!
Things can become more difficult if parents are entirely unhappy with the idea of their children being cared for by male practitioners. If this occurs, management should explain that all staff are screened by the setting and shouldn’t be discriminated against based on gender.
As for settings, my personal experience is that most managers are positively delighted to hire male staff. The issue they face is a lack of men who are willing to work in childcare.
Convincing men to enter the industry is difficult. Society has sadly ingrained in many of us the idea that childcare is a job just for women. I think childcare settings and training providers should emphasise that nurseries aren’t all nappies and nursery rhymes.
Childcare gives enormous opportunities to be creative, to be active and to have all kinds of fun!
If nurseries want to hire and retain male practitioners, they have to improve conditions and compensation.
You’ll never convince men to defy social conditioning and enter a traditionally female-dominated world if all they’ll get in return is low pay, long hours and no chance of progression.
When the sector finally addresses these issues, I believe we’ll see more men becoming childcare practitioners.
Even more importantly, we’ll see staff standards rise across the board, bringing better quality practitioners, better quality nurseries and better care for children.
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