An Uncommon Phenomenon: When Men Teach Kindergarten and Pre-K
By BETH HARPAZ
Fewer than 3% of U.S. preschool and kindergarten teachers are men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A two-year study sought to understand the unique challenges men face working in early childhood education.
The study, published in Young Children, a journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, was co-authored by Borough of Manhattan Community College Professors Kirsten Cole, Jean-Yves Plaisir, and Mindi Reich-Shapiro, along with BMCC adjunct Antonio Freitas.
Locating enough male teachers for the study wasn’t easy. It took outreach to 82 schools and other sites around New York City to identify 81 male teachers. Many schools had no men in early childhood classrooms; others had several. In the end, 46 men participated in the research.
Many respondents expressed pride in having been repeatedly told that their work is “important because they are serving as male role models.” They see themselves providing “a male presence in the lives of children who do not live with their fathers.” One teacher described himself as showing kids that “not every man is scary or somebody that isn’t dependable,” and that men can be “encouraging or nurturing.”
Men are also often told that children behave better with male teachers. But there’s a flip side to being an authority figure: Men are easily perceived as intimidating. “Male educators feel that they must walk a fine line, expected to deploy their masculinity as a tool of control while also providing a caring model of attachment,” the authors wrote. Other stereotypes can be challenging too: Male teachers are often expected to help with physical labor like moving boxes.
In an era of heightened awareness about child sexual abuse, men in the classroom also routinely face “scrutiny and suspicion.” One man said his supervisor told him he should always have a second person with him if a child needs help in the bathroom. Teachers can’t let children sit on their laps, and they can only give “side hugs” to comfort a child.
The researchers said support groups for male teachers can help them navigate these challenges.
The study cited low pay and low status as factors that discourage people from entering the field. But the authors praised programs like New York City’s Teaching Fellows, which reimburses tuition for areas where teachers are needed (math, special ed, bilingual ed), and NYC Men Teach, which aims to recruit men of color. The researchers said they’d like to see a campaign targeted at getting more men of color specifically into early childhood classrooms.