“Being a man in Early Years…”

I’ve been asked to do a bit of work recently highlighting my journey as a man working in Early Years. 

This really made me reflect… 

I think because I have been working in Early Years for nearly 13 years it had just felt like the norm to me. I don’t often think about being the only man in my setting. Or about the obvious lack of men around me. This is naive of me. I have been living and working in the bubble of my setting where it obviously feels normal having a man in Early Years, because I’m there. 

It wasn’t until I was asked to write about my experience as a man in Early Years that I really questioned what has changed over the last 13 years, and the truth is nothing has changed. 

It still feels weird. It still feels unusual. 

There is still an obvious lack of men. 

One of the most obvious reasons for this is low pay – this is however, a wider political problem that impacts the whole sector to be explored at another time. 

However I want to use this space to enable reflection on the reasons why I think men do not feel encouraged too work in, or like we belong in the Early Years. 

I have completed a Level 3 in Childcare and Education, a BA (Hons) in Childhood and Youth Professional studies and have started Early Years Teacher Status and a MA Early Childhood and there has only been ONE other male combined on those courses. And that was on my Level 3 thirteen years ago. 

I still haven’t worked directly with a man in any of my settings. 

We haven’t had any male applicants to any jobs within the company even though the age range we provide care stretches from 0-11.  

Despite there being different campaigns and conversations about this over the years, none of them seem to have made a real change. 

However, I am not saying there is any one specific reason nor am I saying there is a simple solution. 

I am lucky that the majority of my experiences in Early Years relating directly to my gender have been positive. 

However, this is not too say my entire career has been positive. I’ve still had a few negative experiences of the prejudices people hold relating directly to my gender and my role in Early Years. 

Some were 13 years ago and some were much, much more recent. All of them link to the stereotypes of male personality traits and archaic perceptions of gender roles.

It is easy to see why these experiences would discourage anyone from pursuing this career. 

To see why it would make you question if it’s really worth it.

If you really belong. 

It’s fair to say it used to make me question it. 

Perhaps the most interesting detail of these negative comments are that they have solely come from parents. Parents who didn’t really know me. Parents who had either not yet put their children in the setting or whose children had just joined. 

All of the adults who have worked with me, whether they are management or not, have never made any negative comments relating to my gender or said it has had a negative impact on my practice or the children. In that sense it has always been overwhelmingly positive.

Nonetheless we have to question why do these perceptions exist…

Why do people really see my gender as such an important factor in my ability to work in Early Years? 

Whilst the experiences I have been exposed to are influenced by the intersections of my identity, such as my gender, these do not mean I fit into a box or display certain personality traits as a result. 

The gender roles society still assign to men are outdated. Being ‘maternal’ is not a trait exclusive to women. Being ‘nurturing’ isn’t either. The gender roles children experience in Early Years will impact their opinions for the rest of their lives. 

As a man I have had my ability to care for children questioned in my role. These include questions on my ‘caring nature’ and whether as a man, I really can or should change a nappy. 

It is now time that we do not just challenge these gender-role stereotypes in our children but also in society. We, in Early Years cannot profess to be preparing the children for life and work to break the toxic stereotypes different communities have faced for so long without looking at ourselves too. 

Why, despite the rhetoric, is there still not more men in Early Years? 

It is a systemic failure. A failure by all involved. Schools. Colleges. Universities. Organisations. Government. Settings. Even influential individuals in the sector. 

I believe, as a man in Early Years who is lucky enough to have been given a platform to use my voice, I should share my experience to encourage others to join this wonderful sector.  

It really is a joy. It is incredibly rewarding. Challenging but rewarding. 

If I wasn’t driven every day by my desire to enable and witness the children develop, to grow and to flourish then I would not have been in Early Years so long. 

When I was a child I had always dreamt of being a primary school teacher and fell into Early Years when I left college. 

However, it is now my home. I feel like I belong here. 

I guess this is because of the reaction of the people around me when these negative experiences occurred. When people’s perceptions about men in Early Years were challenged.

It is vital that we take the lead on challenging these. 

That we challenge prejudice against any community. Regardless of how ‘harmless’ a comment may seem. 

Seeing these comments challenged so directly made it clear to me that I do belong in this space. That I do have a role to play. 

I am incredibly lucky to have worked with some hugely supportive teams and to have leadership above me who have been unwavering in their support and trust. 

This has enabled me to see that I do belong. Having representation from all communities is hugely important. For all, staff, children and parents. 

It is also important to recognise that there are A LOT of different communities that are underrepresented in Early Years and men are just one of these groups. 

Children, just like us, require a diverse range of role-models. They need to see representation from all communities. 

Some children will be fortunate enough to have a range of positive role-models in their lives, others will not. Every person in a child’s life bring with them individual experiences, have different strengths and weaknesses and bring varied passions as well as providing different teaching and learning opportunities for the children. 

If you work in Early Years you do so for the love of the children. For the reward and joy it brings. To be part of their lives. To support the children grow. To develop. To flourish. 

THIS IS THE REASON TO DO IT! 

THIS IS THE REASON TO GET INVOLVED! 

Please share this far and wide… use it when recruiting… pass it on to schools, colleges, universities, family and friends.

We need more men in Early Years. TODAY.

Further reading: 

Anna McCallum’s Early Years Diary article entitled ‘Men in the Early Years’ explores other possible reasons impacting the number of men in Early Years https://thatnurserylife.com/content/early-years-diary-men-in-the-early-years.

2 thoughts on ““Being a man in Early Years…”

  1. Nicci

    Thank you for this article! Every setting I’ve been to (nursery) I’ve asked if there are any male caregivers and there never have. It’s really important to me that my kids have male influences in their setting 1) to give a different perspective and 2) to break cycle that it’s only women who can perform this role. I’m sorry you got negative comments I’d love it if you taught my sons!

    1. adameyleader Post author

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Nicci!
      It is incredibly important our children and us, are taught by and work with representation from all communities.
      I appreciate that thank you!
      I love my job!

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