Early year’s education is one of the most critical points in a child’s learning and is a time when they will develop a range of skills which will be required throughout not only their school life but into adulthood. It is a vital time, and their early experiences at school will mould children. It is therefore disappointing how few male teachers there are in early year’s education. Estimates suggest that only around 2% of teachers globally are in this group are male.
As one of the leading kindergartens in Bangkok, we recognise the importance of children being exposed to a variety of different experiences, and this includes different gender teachers. We actively encourage male teachers to apply for posts at our school and firmly believe that it helps students to receive a balanced education. Male representation and having positive male role models whom students can look up to is essential and helps to quash many of the unfounded stereotypes.
Why don’t male teachers choose to go into primary education?
Around 38% of teachers in secondary schools in the UK are male, and this is a trend which is more or less the same in developed countries. However, in the UK, where more teachers are in primary education, the figure is only around 15%. There is a general misconception and archaic view that females make better early years teachers because of their “maternal instinct”. However, there is little evidence to support the notion, and it merely presents another barrier that male teachers have to overcome.
There is certainly a stigma attached to men working in early year’s education. Old-fashioned views that men in paid childcare are not “real” men still exist, especially in some parts of Asia and Africa. Childcare is still very much viewed as a “women’s role”, and this is something that needs to be overcome to break down much of the stigma. In some schools, women are perceived to be doing a “good job” and to introduce a male into the environment would “upset the applecart”. These are all unhelpful attitudes and barriers that need to be broken down.
Sadly, the most serious and shameful attitude that is associated with men working in early years education is the association with paedophilia. While this is indeed shocking, there is nothing to suggest that male teachers have any association with this. Indeed, the assumption that all females are safe to be left with children is naïve. In reality, the correct checks need to be conducted on all teachers regardless of their gender.
It is sadly true and something which was highlighted by Farquhar, Cablk, Bucking, Butler & Ballantyne (2006) that primary school teachers are paid less than their counterparts in secondary school. With men still perceived in many cultures as being the primary breadwinner in a household, these low salaries may dissuade teachers from moving into this area and opting for secondary education for the obvious financial benefits.
Training in early year’s international schools
Many international schools, including kindergartens in Bangkok, have highly trained teachers, many of whom have trained in the UK, prior to coming to the Kingdom. While trends are changing, in the past, during their early training, few teachers will have been exposed to early years schooling and unless they had a passion for it and would have little to encourage them into this area. It is a shame, especially as many schools such as our own are actively seeking male teachers to address the imbalance. It means that there are perhaps more opportunities than male teachers realise and definitely less competition.
Addressing the imbalance
In schools around the world and spanning all age groups, male teachers are viewed as having a positive influence in classrooms. They are often role-models for many students where the male parent may not be present due to social or economic reasons. Male teachers, particular amongst younger students, can almost become a father-like figure and a person who can be trusted.
Research was conducted in New Zealand (Farquhar et al. 2012) which showed that having a male role model was essential for young male students as they learnt about “being a man” and the social responsibilities associated with this. Likewise, young girls needed to learn how to relate to males, with many reportedly shy in male company at the beginning. The study suggested that why a lack of male influence impacted on both males and females, it was younger males who were most adversely affected.
Farquhar et al.’s (2012) theory was supported by McNaughton and Newman (2001). They again found that male teachers had a pivotal role to play when it came to introducing boys to the theory of masculinity. In a politically correct world, this is something that can be sidestepped and ignored, but it is something that can be missing from homes and has a detrimental effect on the rest of the family. Male teachers do interact with students differently, and this is something which should be encouraged and not vilified.
Breaking down stereotypes
As we touched upon above, male teachers have a different approach to teaching, and this includes elements of play. In families without a positive male influence, it is easy for stereotypes to exist – ones which are usually inaccurate and outdated. To breakdown these harmful stereotypes, we need students to see what male teachers do first hand, appreciating and accepting the role that they play. Stereotypes can be detrimental in adult life, so dismissing them early is crucial.
In any educational establishment, there always needs to be a gender balance, and this should be something that begins in early year’s schooling and in a child’s main formative years. It is widely accepted that boys and girls learn differently, something which is more apparent in these formative years. Boys tend to be a little more dominant and boisterous something that often, male teachers encourage or at the very least, accept. However, female teachers often try to stop the behaviour and encourage “nice” play.
Peeters (2007) suggested that in most circumstances, female teachers associated aggression as being negative while males saw it as a sign of masculinity. Of course, everything needs to be kept in context, but without the positive male influence, there is a danger that masculinity can be lost or displayed in more unhealthy ways further down the line.
Trying to avoid traditional roles
In modern society, we all accept that it is crucial to breakdown stereotypes as we covered above, and this would include traditional roles. At Kidz Village, we encourage all teachers, male and female, to try and avoid only embracing stereotypical roles. For male teachers, we encourage them to adopt a more caring and sympathetic role, something that may traditionally be associated with female role models. It is something that helps to reduce sexism and promotes gender equality.
Creating a male-friendly environment
In some countries, males play little to no active role in the upbringing of younger children and for this reason; we try to create a male-friendly environment. Male teachers tend to subconsciously encourage male parents to become more involved as they can relate more to another man. There is a common belief that kindergartens and primary schools are too female-focused and that this is another reason for fathers staying away. Whatever the reason, promoting male participation should be encouraged.
The impact of male teachers on female colleagues
It should never be overlooked that the emphasis is on quality teachers rather than their gender. However, having a diverse workplace has been shown to create a better atmosphere and improve morale within schools, especially those which may be underperforming. It is not only students who benefit from different attitudes and diverse opinions, but teachers too. The quality of teaching tends to improve with diversity, and the professional relationships between all work colleagues tend to be better.
In another study by Farquhar, it was identified that male teachers generally have more energy and enthusiasm, especially when it comes to play. The dynamic, although stereotypical, tended to improve harmony and reduce malicious gossip. The consensus is that the males reinforce positive gender stereotypes while reducing and even displacing the negative ones.
It is anticipated that the number of males entering early year’s education will increase as salaries increase (Bittner and Cooney, 2003), a point we highlighted earlier. Most academics believe that creating a gender-fair working environment is beneficial for students and teachers, and it is something that all schools should try to achieve.
Arguments against more male teachers
There are plenty of fears surrounding positive discrimination and a feeling that males may gain an unfair advantage when applying for jobs. In some cultures, a man taking on traditional female roles is something which is still frowned upon and may not be accepted. Another argument is that the males have a more forthright way of communicating, and it may be found intimidating by female colleagues and girls, which can harm all within the school.
Although there are perhaps some negatives associated with male teachers in early year’s education, this is often more attributed to the individual rather than their gender. Most believe that having a mix of genders is beneficial for students, while the negative impact on female teachers will be regarded as nil to negligible.
Did you find our article interesting?
We hope that this article and helped explain why male teachers are vital in early year’s education. At Kidz Village, we believe that gender equality enhances a child’s education. Our acclaimed International School in Bangkok strives to provide the ideal environment to promote learning. For more information, please call us on +66 2888 3337 and we will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.