I am a rare and seldom seen creature, I am a man who works in early learning. Here is my obligatory “man working in childcare post!”
In terms of the vast array of problems facing early learning, I honestly consider increasing the amount of men in the field to be a very low priority. I barely consider it to be on the list at all really. Personally I am not even that concerned about being made to feel especially welcomed either. Of course I’ve heard the stories of men not being allowed to change diapers or be suspected as pedophiles and creeps. I’ve had a few parents treat me as such and probably more think it but not say anything. These views are ignorant and they piss me off. I also have seen being a man absolutely work in my advantage. Forward looking nurseries and childcare centres actively want to hire men. I was lucky enough to be hired at an excellent centre in Melbourne. I had five years experience and a strong letter of reference from my Seattle manager but I know for a fact being a man was icing on the cake in their eyes. It looks good to have decent men on staff who aren’t complete idiots. I don’t want to discount the ignorant treatment other men have experienced in other settings but I really do think think there are much bigger problems facing early learning at the moment.
Preschools are being turned into boot camps for elementary and primary school. Academics are being pushed at earlier and earlier ages even though it is simply proven to be harmful and incredibly developmentally inappropriate, much less benefit children at all.
The pay and respect for this field is disgustingly low. Wages won’t magically raise with the addition of men into the field. Wages will rise when educators and families and decent people come together and force the government to provide adequate support for this work. I can’t do the topic justice but I can’t get over the contradiction between mountains of research that show the tremendous importance of our first five years of life and on the other hand the centuries of sexism and complete ignorance of childhood development. Our brains grow and develop in the most important ways in the first five years of our life. Properly taking this into account, we could advance society and individual’s lives in countless ways. We don’t do this though because as a whole we still operate as if babies and children are empty minded beasts who can’t be understood and the women who choose to care for them each day as a profession just do it because “babies are cute.” Why should we be paid a decent wage anyways?
Sad to say, but writing the above made me realize that plenty of early learning educators – of any gender – continue to basically operate from the “Kids as Empty Minded Beasts” and “Babies Are Cute” principles. I know I started in the field simply because “I liked kids” and I know I had no working understanding of childhood development. I am not as good an educator as I would like to be, but I am amazed I’ve progressed as far as I have. The awful truth is when the field is as lowly regarded at is, centres and nurseries cannot be terribly picky about who they hire.
On a different and more personal topic, the title of this post is from a Kanye West song. The song is about him of course and how he sees himself as a rapper and star. One morning while walking to work this line from the chorus really spoke to me.
“Everything I’m not made me everything I am.”
I mostly accept my role as a man doing what is seen as “women’s work.” I mostly accept that some will think it’s weird or don’t understand why I would be here in the first place. I mostly accept that I am in a job where I will likely never make much money. I mostly accept that people, including some friends and family secretly look down on or pity my decision to stay in this field to some degree. I mostly accept that I will never make as much money as my wife or friends or cousins who are in more professional jobs.
Then there is still a sad, insecure part of me who feels like I am not measuring up to what a man from a college-educated background should do with his life. I’m not particularly ambitious about much. I’m not willing to work an office job I hate to make more money. I’m not into typically “man” stuff either. I’m not handy. I’m not into sports. I’m not much of what men are supposed to be.
“Everything I’m not made me everything I am.”
I am not much of what a man is supposed to be. I can’t fully escape comparing myself to the stupid standards of others. I suppose none of us can. While walking to work and listening to this song though I realized I am a lot of other things. I am someone who is caring and strives to be a decent person. I am somebody who has learned through trial and error how to be decent at caring for and building important relationships with other people’s children. I am somebody who gives others peace of mind knowing their children are being well cared for and loved while they are at work. I am somebody who has learned to be mostly comfortable doing something not typically done by men. I am somebody who is driven to get better at this sort of work that is physically but even more so emotionally demanding. I am somebody who is ambitious about doing my small part to improve childcare and early learning.
This also means that I am an educator who is learning to trust babies and young children to take ownership of their own learning. I am an educator that is giving up my supposed power and control in the room and letting the children in my care do more for themselves. I am an educator that is confident in letting children “just” play. I am an educator who is trying to better my practice and maybe help push the field forward in a small way as well.
Our work is not valued, respected or understood much as a whole by others. To any other women, men or people of any gender working hard in early learning, let Kanye’s confidence and DJ Premier’s piano loops give you a boost of love and pride in the important work you do!