“She’ll be fine. Their teachers are so loving and warm. It’s so much better for kids to have female teachers Pre-K teachers because they’re so nurturing. It’s why you don’t see any men teaching Pre-K.” – The mother of a fellow student in Sienna’s Pre-K class.
I’d just dropped Sienna off at school and she was having a hard time letting go. She’d suffered through strep throat and wound up having a 4-day weekend allowing her to spend considerable time with Mommy and Daddy so it’s understandable that she didn’t want to go to school and that she bawled when I left. I’d picked her up and held her, making sure to kiss her head 10 times and hug her 10 times and tickle her 10 times, but still her teachers needed to literally pull her away from grabbing my jacket as I left.
That’s when the woman mentioned made my blood boil by inferring that men weren’t nurturing enough to teach Pre-K. I know just how nurturing I am. And I’ve read enough blogs and been to enough conferences held by the Dad 2.0 Summit and the National At-Home Dad Network to know that I’m far from alone.
So I decided to do a little research into men and early education and didn’t find all that much recent work regarding Pre-K, but I did find a couple of alarmingly similar articles about how society (and not just American society) views male teachers. In a 2013 ABC News article by Susan Donaldson James titled “Why Men Don’t Teach Elementary School” for the past 20 years, male teachers in American elementary and middle schools “stagnated at 16% to 18% according to MenTeach, an organization whose mission is to increase the number of males working with young children” and that there were no statistics for Pre-K or kindergarten, ,”but in 2011, the most recent year for which there are data, only slightly more than 2 percent of kindergarten and preschool teachers were male.” 2%? In 2011? Seems to me that there’s a glass ceiling when it comes to men and early learning. The question is why?
It comes back to what Sienna’s classmate’s mother told me this morning. There is an outdated, stereotypical view that men can’t be as nurturing as women. Ms. James quotes Massachusetts psychologist Michael Thompson co-author of Raising Cain, a 2000 book that claims American society shortchanges boys due to the “feminization of the classroom.”
According to Thompson, “It’s very hard to change the suspicion of men who are going to elementary education when there are so few of them,” Thompson said. “Schools ask me to talk to men on their faculty and when I sit with them behind closed doors, they say the moms look at them like potential pedophiles.
“If they are too nurturing or a mother comes in and sees a teacher reading in a chair and the child is leaning against the teacher or cuddling him, they freak out,” he said. “Men tell me they only have to look in the mom’s face to know what they are thinking.”
This is a similar thought when it comes to modern dads taking their young kids to the park only to be glared at with suspicion by moms as well as the age-old advice given to children should they become lost – if you can’t find a police officer or similar person of authority, find a mother with children – which infers men, even dads with kids, are dangerous.
As stated above, the lack of men in the classroom, particularly in the early learning classroom, and the stereotyping and suspicion of male teachers doesn’t just exist in the United States. In a 2013 article titled “Teaching in Primary Schools ‘Still Seen as a Woman’s Job‘” posted on The Telegraph‘s website by Education Editor Graeme Paton, studies concluded that “figures show[ed] that around a quarter of primary schools in England – 4,500 – are staffed entirely by women. In all, men present just 12 per cent of the primary school workforce, while just three per cent of teachers in state nurseries are male.” Why? Because of “deeply ingrained gender stereotypes combined with fears that men will be falsely labelled as paedophiles.”
Again with the pedophilia fear. Sienna’s teachers (both female) and her previous teachers (3 females) have all been wonderful. They’ve never been afraid of offering their students hugs should they need them. They’ve never had to worry about being seen as incapable and predatory instead of smart, protective, tender and warm. But modern dads have to battle mistrust and the stereotypes of coldness, cluelessness and creepiness. We modern dads must battle these stereotypes every day when taking our kids to the park or shopping or or anything remotely deemed “feminine” work, not to mention the underlying fear that we’re somehow abusive criminals.
I’ve personally gotten to know hundreds of dads of young children who are expert nurturers sometimes even surpassing the abilities of the family’s matriarch. Each and every one of these men are capable of teaching Pre-K and could bring creativity, warmth and patience to the classroom. Each and every one would hug and try to comfort a crying child without pedophilia ever entering his mind.
It’s time world societies begin recognizing that along with eliminating the ridiculous stereotype that men can’t change a diaper comes the fact that modern dads are much more involved in their children’s lives, are much more affectionate and are more than capable of teaching in a Pre-K classroom. With apologies to the mother of Sienna’s classmate, having a female Pre-K teacher isn’t better because women are inherently more able to nurture in a classroom – it’s because people like you won’t even let men try.