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Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 29, No.

2, Winter 2001 ( 2001)

Men in Early Childhood Education: Their Emergent Issues


Margaret H. Cooney1,3 and Mark T. Bittner2

Using a focus group approach, this study explored emergent issues for men in early childhood education. Preservice teachers, classroom teachers, and male professors identified 6 categories of issues including low salaries, family, and other influences on entering the field, teaching beyond the basics, improving preservice education, recruitment of males, and advantages and disadvantages of males in the field. Implications of the study focus on ways to create gender-fair classrooms.
KEY WORDS: male teachers; early childhood education; preservice education; gender-fair classrooms.

INTRODUCTION Males teaching infants, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergartners, or even primary grades 13 have been a rare occurrence in our early childhood classrooms. As traditional gender practices are questioned more and more within professional circles, the virtual absence of men is worth exploring. We launched a project to address this topic in the fall of 1998. The project had several objectives: 1) to study emergent issues experienced by male students enrolled in our elementary/early childhood program; 2) to provide a support network among males in our program currently or males who have already graduated from the program; and 3) to dialogue with other teacher education programs in the country about our findings. We held our first discussion group on campus and invited all males enrolled in a dual major in elementary/

Margaret H. Cooney is an Associate Professor and Department Head for Elementary and Early Childhood Education in the College of Education at the University of Wyoming. 2 Mark T. Bittner is the Director for the Childrens Programs Sponsored by the Department of Family and Consumer Science in the College of Agriculture at the University of Wyoming. Margaret and Mark are members of the Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Program at the University of Wyoming. 3 Correspondence should be directed to Margaret H. Cooney, Ph.D., Box 3374, College of Education, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82072-3374; e-mail: cooney@uwyo.edu

early childhood education. The triggering event that prompted us to move from talking about the idea of a support group to actually launching the project was a dilemma experienced by Mark, the University Child Care Center director, during a professional development training conference. He was the only male participating in an infant-toddler summer institute at Wheelock College. Parents were discussing their infant and toddler care issues as Mark and his female peers listened to the dialogue. One parent announced that she would never permit a male teacher to change her childs diaper; not even the father was allowed to take on that role. When the parents left, he was asked by the others how he felt about the comment. Once more, Mark was confronted with the feeling of being a minority member of the early childhood profession and all its accompanying biases and conflicts. Mark made the statement to his peers that he saw this as an ethical dilemma because the familys culture seemed to prevent a male caregiver from doing his job. This article describes the issues that emerged during the four, one-hour sessions for male students, male teachers, and male professors on our campus who were interested in talking about their experiences related to choosing a career in early childhood education. We videotaped the sessions with consent from the participants. Mark and Margaret analyzed the videotaped content between each session and at the end of the year. We were astonished at the compelling stories told by the partici-

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78 pants and decided to write this article to raise awareness of the issues surrounding male teachers in early childhood education from the perspective of some male teachers and preservice teachers.

Cooney and Bittner our groups issues compare with issues addressed in the literature.

WHAT WERE THE EMERGENT ISSUES FOR MALES? HOW WERE THE SESSIONS ORGANIZED? Margaret, as the early childhood coordinator and faculty member in the college, sent invitations to all the undergraduate male students enrolled in the dual major of elementary and early childhood education. Additionally, recently graduated students with the dual major who were teaching children birth to eight in the local community were personally contacted. Mark, as the director of the campus childrens programs, knew some of the students who had completed one of their early childhood practicum experiences at his sites. Mark facilitated the sessions and he and Margaret planned them. A room in the education building was reserved and a speaker phone was set up for interested males at the other affiliated program in the state. The first three meetings were set up with open discussion in mind. Mark used a list of guiding questions generated by Margaret and Mark, based upon literature and mens caucus sessions attended at the NAEYC Annual Conference (see Figure 1). The fourth meeting was more structured and focused on a web task that Mark and Margaret developed based upon the emergent issues from the previous sessions of this specific group of men (see Figure 2). We will discuss the emergent issues first and then comment on how There were six categories of issues identified by the participants: low salaries, family and other influences on entering the field, teaching beyond the basics, improving preservice education, recruitment of males into the field, and advantages/disadvantages of being males in a field dominated by females. Some males prioritized these issues differently according to whether they looked at them professionally or personally. The group agreed, however, that the issues were linked and overlapping in their minds.

HOW DO LOW SALARIES AFFECT THE MEN? Low salaries were discussed by the men at every focus group session. Two interconnected themes associated with this issue emerged. The first theme centered around a public perception about the field of teaching as undemanding (e.g., summers off). They talked of the attitude of societal members toward teaching. One of the participants in his first year of teaching with second and third graders in a multiage classroom at the colleges lab school told the others about his barber.
Theres definitely that financial tradeoff. The guy that cuts my hair criticizes teachers. Oh, man, Id never teach those kids today. Theyre freaking crazy. We need to go back to the basics, just chain them kids to chairs. I just sit and listen to him and wow, my beliefs are so different from his but theyre my beliefs. I think thats such a bleak outlook on not just education but the future. I cant believe people are so speculative about teachers. Theyre the most important person in our society. Doctors are important but they had teachers. Everyone had teachers.

1. What influenced your decision to choose early childhood education as an area of concentration? What age group (infantsthird grade) do you hope to teach? 2. How have your peers, family, community members reacted to your decision? 3. How do you want to be treated in your field (just like everyone else, as a unique person, as a male)? 4. What do you believe you can contribute to this profession? 5. What do you envision as the role of fathers, grandfathers, other males, in childrens lives? 6. Do men in the field of early childhood education have a different perspective than men not in the field? 7. In the college early childhood classes, do you ever feel as though you are treated differently by the instructor, peers, advisers than males are treated in other college classes and chosen professions? What, if any, effect does being in the minority in the early childhood classes have on the way the course is delivered? 8. Is early childhood a profession you see yourself staying in or is it a path toward another career goal? Fig. 1. Guiding questions for focus group meetings.

After sharing his barbers attitude, Dan made the statement, I would rather be happy than rich. The group that evening concluded that the salary is a primary reason why males dont go into teaching. The second related theme was an image the men had of themselves as the family breadwinner. Several of the men anticipated that their wives would stay home with the children at least while they were young. They wanted to be the sole provider for the family and worried that the low salary would put their spouse and children in jeopardy. One of the married undergraduate student participants, whose father was a physician, de-

Men in Early Childhood Education

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Fig. 2. Emergent issues for men in early childhood education.

scribed his enjoyment of material things as a child and wanted to be able to do the same for his children even while his wife was not employed outside the home. In the end, he stated, Im gonna have to sacrifice what I like for what I love. Mark and Margaret found this emergent theme especially interesting and also paradoxical. While the societal bias against teaching as a highstatus and high-paying career was disturbing to them, the males in the focus group appeared to perpetuate societal bias against gender equity. WHAT IS THE REACTION OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHEN MEN ENTER THE FIELD OF EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION? The backgrounds of the male participants varied in terms of support they received or failed to receive from family and friends. Several of the participants chose the field because a member of their family was a teacher. One of the teacher participants, two years out of college who taught kindergarten and then fifth grade in a rural school, stated that his mother was an important influence on him. She supported his career choice throughout college and his first two years of teaching.
I had the support of my family. It was convincing myself that this was something I wanted to do and that the money is not going to be the greatest. And do I want

to spend the rest of my life doing something that Im happy doing or do I want to spend my life making a lot of money?

Others struggled with getting family approval. One participant succumbed to his fathers desire to have him learn the electrician business by working with his father the year following graduation. It was Dans wife who told him one day that she wanted him to go back to teaching because he was a different person when he taught, the person she married. Dan reported on her words: Every day you came home from [student] teaching and you had a story to tell me. I would rather you come home and share your life with me and I can work too. They moved back to the college community and Dan took the job in the lab school while his wife took a university staff position. His comments included, I have an undying love of children. Teaching is my gift. Dan talked about the importance of having passion for the teaching career and how he wanted to see other males who were passionate about teaching and urged us to prevent students who were not enthusiastic about the field from slipping through the undergraduate teacher education program. When Mark asked the group, Do your friends give you a hard time for choosing teaching as a career? The group responded in unison with a yes followed by

80 laughter. Additionally, it was interesting that within the group only a couple of the men had male teachers when they were in elementary school and neither of them were particularly influenced by that. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TEACH BEYOND THE BASICS? The mens stories about being a teacher of young children often contained content that shed light upon their teaching styles. One of the themes that emerged from this content was a broad notion of what teaching entails. Several men described their comfort in sharing personal experiences with their class. Others talked of how moral development was part of their teaching agenda. Two student teachers said that they saw themselves as role models out in the community as well as in the classroom. Two more talked about their emergent curriculum in that they learn from the students, take leads from their students, and even take risks in allowing a range of student issues to be discussed openly in class. Matt talked about the primary grade childrens concern about Kosovo events and how he changed his curriculum plan or order to discuss the emergent current event:
Matt: Professionally, I put teaching beyond the basics as my priority. I know you know my frame of mind right now with all the testing coming out. Thats where Im stuck right now. I want to get my kids beyond what they have to know. Mark: Is it easier for you being a male? Matt: In some ways. Certain issues are easy to talk to kids about as stuff comes up. We spent time the other day talking about this whole Kosovo thing. It was a spur of the moment thing. Im in a small [rural school] class with just six kids and I can do that kind of a thing. It was easy for me and the other teacher out there who teaches primary said shed never feel comfortable doing something like that because she doesnt know whats going on over there. I was willing to take the risk. Im not sure whats going on either but were all going to bring in articles about it now.

Cooney and Bittner that their college classrooms often felt biased against the male student in choice of texts, in dominant perspectives expressed in discussions, in chosen content. One male even pointed out that its not just the teacher editions of school books that are biased but that the teaching objectives are also biased, in their wording when referring to the teacher. Others stated that they hadnt thought about it until now and their awareness was raised by the discussion. They speculated that some great male students are lost to the early childhood education field because of college classroom bias. The field experience context and the issue of having a male or a female mentor teacher was important for several males. Matt stated that he did not have any male mentor teachers and he wished that he had. He did, however, seek out a male professor in the college to talk with about teaching in order to get a male perspective. Troy, a student in Dans classroom for an early childhood class practicum, reported his happy reaction when he found that there was a male primary teacher listed as a possible field site for his course: I saw a male teacher on the list . . . a guy! Support on campus for males enrolled in early childhood education was discussed several times with a general consensus that a group such as this was critical for their retention. HOW CAN WE RECRUIT MORE MALES INTO THE FIELD? The stereotype that females/mommies are the nurturers and that males dont do this emerged as a barrier to recruiting males into the field. A strong recruitment tool pointed out by the males was having at least one male teacher in every primary grade so that when male students pass by the classrooms, they have someone to identify with. It was seen as an affirmation of their career choice to see another male who made the same choice. WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF HAVING MALE TEACHERS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION? This issue was prioritized by many males to be personally and professionally important. It was the most frequently discussed issue during the four focus group meetings. They stated in the first session that just being a male was not enough. If the student was a male and a good teacher, it could be an advantage. The existence of male role models in the preschool and primary grades was considered to be huge for some children. Dan said that primary schools need a balance of male and female

One male commented after a discussion in the fourth session addressing this theme that males seem to be storytellers rather than listeners. He wondered if gender is a factor in the teachers approach to interacting with the children. This is a theme we would like to explore in more detail. HOW CAN WE IMPROVE PRESERVICE EDUCATION? During the focus group sessions, the conversation turned to the males undergraduate teacher education program experiences. Some of the men acknowledged

Men in Early Childhood Education teachers and that some children need a male teacher to be successful. He told a story about a child named Joey who was scheduled to be in his second and third grade classroom. The kindergarten and first grade teachers and even the parents told him, Watch out for Joey! However, Joey has turned out to be a leader in the class who thrived on the teacher-child relationship. Dan also shared a story about a male child who started singing for the first time and how thrilled the mother was that Dans enthusiasm for singing helped her boy feel comfortable with it. Two student teachers in primary grades in the same school remarked that as males they feel that the children take more interest in them simply because they are males. Jake commented that the children were thinking, Heres a guy that cares about us. The men cautioned the group that a poor male role model could do a lot of damage in the classroom and it is important to be aware that good teaching is critical. Disadvantages for males in early childhood education were discussed in great detail. The feeling of isolation within the college classroom and the school was shared. Matt stated that he felt alone with no one to talk to in his first teaching experience. He didnt feel comfortable sharing some of his teaching issues and successes with the female teachers in the primary unit. The touch issue was raised by one of the males in the focus group in the first meeting and the group arrived at a way to address the issue. Marks experience with female teachers asking him about his reaction to the parent who did not want a man to change her childs diaper made him feel nailed to the wall. Dan referred to Marks story later in the session by saying that the story gripped me hard. Troy, the student doing a practicum in Dans class, shared that he felt uncomfortable when children spontaneously planted themselves in his lap. His discomfort was not with the childs action but with what adults passing by the classroom might think. One participant commented that he felt like he was fighting the line all the time. The group, with the leadership of Dan, decided that the key to addressing the touch issue was to go slowly at the beginning of the year, using handshakes and then hugs as an option for the children. They decided that building relationships of trust with every child and every parent would go a long way to allay the fears of everyone involved. HOW DO THE EMERGENT ISSUES FOR THIS GROUP COMPARE TO OTHER RESEARCHERS FINDINGS? Two studies conducted by faculty at other institutions did not identify the same issues that we did. Mon-

81 tecinos and Nielson (1999) conducted in-depth interviews with 40 white male students enrolled in an elementary teacher education program in the Midwest. They stated that the males tended to negate the role of gender in their teaching while at the same time justifying their presence in the classroom as providing a male role model. Additionally they found that the males reported receiving social validation for choosing elementary education as their career. A theme about using teaching as a doorway into occupations with higher status and financial reward was identified. DeCorse (1999) studied first-year male teachers and used two interviews and five hours of videotaped classroom time to study participant perceptions of the first year of teaching. She reported that the males felt that their entry into the profession was qualitatively different from their female counterparts. They reported preferential treatment, higher expectations for success, and no advancement limitations imposed on them. A study with white middle class preservice male teachers on recruitment and retention concluded that male teachers would be more likely to reinforce rather than disrupt gender stereotypes in the field of education (Cunningham, 1999). Cunningham speculated that normative definitions of gender are perpetuated rather than rewritten. He recommended that teacher education programs address more aggressively the issues of diversity and gender equity embedded in teaching. Hyun and Tyler (1999) studied preschool teachers perceptions on gender differences and found that some teachers may reinforce young children of both sexes for feminine rather than masculine behavior. For example, behaviors such as obedience rather than assertiveness were valued in all children. They promoted the concept of a gender-fair learning environment in order to benefit both boys and girls. Research related to increasing father involvement in early childhood programs has uncovered issues related to those experienced by men entering the profession of early childhood education. Both Berger (1998) and McBride and Rane (1997) promoted the concept of a father friendly atmosphere in the early childhood setting that does not shut men out. This includes displaying posters and photos in the classroom that show men interacting with children as well as communicating an expectation that men will be involved in the childs education. It means broadening the term of father to include men in childrens lives who are not necessarily the biological father. McBride and Rane (1997) found that, contrary to public perception, many children from single-parent families or with high-risk factors actually had regular contact with a father or male role figure.

82 CONCLUSIONS The topic of men in early childhood education is clearly one that needs to be addressed. Mark presented our findings at the 1999 Annual Conference for the National Association for the Education of Young Children where he had 50 male and female participants anxious to discuss the perceptions, barriers, and breakthroughs that they have experienced related to bringing men into the profession. They seemed to feel that our emergent issues could be generalized to other places and groups in the country. The following quotation, from the book Getting Men Involved, expresses the groups sense of where we are as a profession with this issue:
Our society is beginning to recognize both the inevitability and the value of racial and cultural diversity. But another dimension of diversity is valuing the interests and talents of both sexes, of recognizing the contributions that both women and men can make to children, and to one another in their work with children. (Levine, Murphy, & Wilson, 1993, p. 10)

Cooney and Bittner room and in the early childhood setting in order for this to happen? Questions such as these provide direction for further research. The males in our study felt conflicted about their family role as breadwinner and choosing a profession with a low salary. Will this image of their role in the family be modified based on their spouses perspectives about female roles of mother and breadwinner? As our male focus group found, there are still many hurdles to clear in terms of how males are viewed in early childhood care and education positions. Issues such as gender perspectives, cultural biases, and worthy wages will continue to be issues until the care and education of young children becomes a higher priority in society. REFERENCES
Berger, E. H. (1998). Dont shut fathers out. Early Childhood Education Journal, 26(1), 5761. Cunningham, B. (1999). Hiring and retaining male staff. Child Care Information Exchange, 125, 6669. Decorse, C. J. (1999). Male elementary teachers professional induction: Glass escalator or everyman experience. Paper Presentation at the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference, April 1923, 1999, Montreal, Canada. Hyun, E. & Tyler, M. (1999). Examination of preschool teachers biased perception on gender differences. Paper Presentation at the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference, April 1923, 1999, Montreal, Canada. Levine, J. A., Murphy, D. T., & Wilson, S. (1993). Getting men involved. New York: Scholastic. McBride, B. A., & Rane, T. R. (1997). Father/male involvement in early childhood programs: Issues and challenges. Early Childhood Education Journal, 25(1), 1115. Montecinos, C., & Nielsen, L. (1999). Performing scripts of masculinities in elementary school teaching. Paper Presentation at the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference, April 1923, 1999, Montreal, Canada.

One of the issues from the above studies that particularly interests us is that of a gender-fair learning environment. The males in our group acknowledged differences between male and female teachers in the classroom. They also talked about feeling isolated and uncomfortable talking with female colleagues about their classroom issues. The notion of a college classroom that was biased toward the female preservice teacher emerged. What would the group have to say about creating a gender-fair learning environment that supports and encourages a balance between the behaviors traditionally attributed to females and males? What changes might need to take place in the college class-

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