I’m still angry. Ground-breaking stuff, I know, but now it’s to do with something I’m passionate about.
This week I want to talk to you about men in education, primarily the early years. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most crucial times in a young person’s development. At this stage in life, children are like sponges, they absorb their surroundings, so being around the right people is vital.
With news of Rolf Harris facing charges of sexual assault relating to events in the 80s, and the continuation of Operation Yewtree, it is no surprise that so many parents are hesitant to leave their children with young, seemingly approachable men.
I graduated a few weeks ago with a degree in Early Years Education (maybe it was Education Studies specialising in Early Years – all I know is, after studying it for three years, I’m still not entirely sure what it is). But now I’ve got some fancy letters to stick in my name somewhere. Now I am a graduate, I’m a real grown up. The fear of becoming a real adult is daunting. But the fear of loathing my career, of becoming monotonous, more so the fear of being portrayed as something I am not, a threat to the young and vulnerable, really is something else.
Having completed a life ruining amount of research into this area over the past few years of my life, I finally understand the harsh reality faced by men following careers in early years education. Did you know that women hold almost 99% of the jobs in early years teaching? Men who do find their way into primary teaching are prodded, poked and tested at every angle to ensure they’re “right” for the job.
I found three whole pages of headlines regarding the abuse of young boys by male teachers, those who had misused their position of power in order to break the law and ruin so many lives. The unflinchingly negative portrayal of these men really does tar guys like me with same brush – parents and other carers are far more aware of the near to non-existent threat we pose to their children.
Don’t get me wrong, being aware is a wonderful thing, but it’s a double-edged sword. Because of the media witch hunt against male carers, parents are more protective of their children. Mums & dads are heavily involved with nursery staff nowadays and the positive relationship between families and workers is crucial to their child’s holistic development. But there is a difference between awareness and paranoia.
As I start to pursue my career, I am in contact with many nurseries – one of which has another male nurse working there. The manager told me that several parents had a problem with this new addition to the team. “Isn’t is strange that a man wants to work with children? I thought that was a woman’s job?” and one which really bothered me: “are you going to let him change her nappy?”. Maybe this is more of an issue of outdated sexist stereotypes, or maybe parents really are genuinely concerned their children are at risk in the hands of a male carer. It seems one size fits all in the minds of many.
Why is this a problem to so many people? Until I have my own children, I won’t ever understand what goes through a maternal mind when leaving their offspring in the hands of a relative stranger. But as someone who is on the other side of their apprehension, I just wish they understood the policies in place at a nursery ; child protection and welfare, CRB checks, continuing self-evaluations. The sheer amount of work that goes into such a poorly paid job is astronomical and to have this stigma attached is undoubtedly a factor lending itself to the cripplingly low figure of men in early years education.
Taking the focus away from men for a moment, what about the women who mistreat children in the profession? Research shows this is up to 40% in some countries. There is definitely not a 6:4 ratio of stories in the media covering the range of abusers. I am not calling for a heavier focus on women, that’s not the case at all. I think the publication of abuse cases is critical: it highlights an all too real taboo subject in modern society.
I just wish there was a concise look at the 99% of non-abusive practitioners, nurses, teachers, carers and other workers. With more positive stories of nursery staff would come a stronger sense of trust from parents and, personally for me, feelings of self-value, appreciation and worth. The media has a lot to answer for.
There are endless benefits to having men in the many areas of early years education. We act as role models to the children who do not have a father figure in their life (nearly 50% of lone parent families have less than 6 hours contact time with a man a week). We offer different approaches to women in terms of learning and care and allow children to understand diversity in their environment.
Whilst I’ve taken a rather damaged, negative approach to this subject, I cannot ignore the positives. Surrey Council have added a page dedicated to answering FAQs about men in nurseries, quashing many stereotypes and negative beliefs along the way. It is stepping stones like this which are opening eyes to the positives of men in care and education, something which I hope will continue.
I am excited by the prospect of being a nursery nurse one day, perhaps even running my own care centre, but I can’t help feel disheartened by the continuing onslaught of paranoid parents questioning my practice and intentions. Regardless, I will continue and prove them wrong to show that men are just as suited to this career as women – we are trusted, motivated, professional individuals. And that’s something I hope you agree with too.