A Brave Perspective

Imagine a preschool where all of the teachers, assistants, aides, and administration are men.  That’s right.  Men.  Males.  Young men.  Old men.  Divorced and single men.  Men that recently graduated college.  Men that are ready to retire.

Is it weird?  Think about it.  Let’s imagine a school, full of male early childhood educators.

Imagine a classroom.  Perhaps yours, if it’s easy.  Think of a young man, 25-years-old, sitting down at circle time, on your carpet.  He’s singing the good morning song.  It sounds like yours.  A little different from what you remember, but all of the words are there.  As the children sing and clap along, the assistant, a 55-year-old man, is wiping down the tables so the children have a clean surface to enjoy their breakfast.  He’s older, with gray in his hair and beard.  During the holidays, he’s a dead ringer for Santa.

This a little weird for you?

In the hallway is the creaking of a cart.  On it are bowls of oatmeal and fruit.  Cups and plates are stacked neatly as the center aide, a 60-year-old man, pushes the cart.  He’s delivering a meal to each classroom.  As he’s walking by, he hears the singing of the good morning song.  He smiles to himself, as he remembers how he use to sing the song when he taught – and which he passed along to that new rookie teacher, the 25-year-old.

Did the guy prepare the food?  Really?  A guy that cooks for small children?

When the aide comes in the room, he puts the food on the table.  The children turn from the song and wave “hi” to the aide.  The aide waves back, then leaves the room.  He wheels the cart back to the kitchen.  He takes off his apron and hair net.  He glances at the schedule.  He’ll go to each classroom to relieve all of the teachers for their breaks – 10 minutes for each man.  There are 3 teachers and 3 assistants.  All men, in a school that serves 51 children – boys and girls.

Now, I’ve only mentioned ages, but what do they look like?  Does it matter?  White, black, brown, whatever.  Thin and fat.  Short and tall.  Any kind of man you can think of.  Imagine what you will.  We’re just imagining, right?

In the office sits a center manager and family advocate.  Both men are in their early 30’s.  Both men have degrees in early childhood or child development.  They work diligently at their computers checking to make sure the children are up to date on their immunizations. Men or coordinating parent-teacher conferences for over the next couple of weeks.  According to the Child Plus records and DRDP measures, children are showing tremendous growth.  Only two more months before the end of the school year.  Before the end of the day, the center manager will order the children’s cap and gowns, a bounce house, streamers, and other celebration material.  He’s excited to see the little ones get ready for kindergarten.

Alright, let’s stop right here for a moment.  There is a lot to digest.  Probably some questions popping up.

First, does this seem to weird for you?  Does something seem wrong?  Is this too hard to imagine?  Does the idea of a preschool filled with nothing but men a little out there for comprehension?  Clearly, a preschool full of men would be missing something.  I mean, it’s full of men.  Something is missing.  The men would be teaching everything.  Could they help all of the children?  Could they do all of the hugs and comforting, then the bandages on the owwies?  How would the parents respond?  Would they like this?  Could men do it all?  Could they do everything?

So many questions and concerns!

Okay, okay.  Let’s put your mind at ease.  I can imagine that this story sounds comical and, perhaps, ludicrous.  I mean, a school filled with men?  Unheard of!  Let’s start a different story, shall we?  One that is easier to understand.

Let’s imagine an entire preschool we’re all of the teacher’s are female…

Moral of the Story: Young children need every kind of role model… women and men alike.

This is not an either/or question or situation.  It’s not just all men or all women.  Or some men with most women or vice versa.  It’s men and women.  Both working side by side, bringing examples, ideas, and energies that complete an early childhood experience.

But, who knows if that would ever happen.  Men aren’t exactly flocking to preschools begging to be hired.  And there are some preschools that don’t believe in men teaching young children.  There are so many perspectives that go against this vision, and make my above story even more inconceivable.

However, imagine such a perspective.  A brave one indeed!

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morE THAN me

DSC02533Last week, I earned a new title: Father.  After four and half years of preschool, I get to find out if all of that “parental advice” I dish out actually works.  Already, I’ve gotten advice from numerous family members, friends, and even parents within my own preschool:

Take care of yourself.

When there is downtime, rest.

When people offer to babysit, take it!

I’m one week into parenthood and I’m strapped in for the roller coaster my life is about to become – and I’m optimistic.  Besides all the advice, people have said that as an early childhood educator, I’m probably more prepared than most males.  Perhaps.  However, I’m pretty sure I never went through the “3-hour crying session at 2 a.m.” training.

If you’re wondering, yes, that happened this morning.

One question that I’ve been asked is this: Do you feel different?  Does holding your own child feel different?  It’s a fair question.  I hang around small children all day.  Does knowing there is now a living, breathing child running around with my ears and arm hair feel different?  Yeh.  It does.  Though only a little.  But it’s strong little feeling.  Very strong and it’s growing.  If I had to summarize the feeling into a statement, it would read “I would do anything for my son.”

There is another question on my mind and it’s one that I ask myself:

How does it feel to be joining the community you serve? The parenthood community?

The feeling is surreal.  Think about it.  It’s like a doctor becoming a patient in her own hospital or a taxi driver hailing a taxi.  I feel like the CEO of a toupee company who reveals their bald head and says “I’m not only the CEO, but a client.”

I think about how I get to practice what I preach.  You know?  All these posts where I share best practices about lessons and activities and things to try at home.  Yep.  In three years I get to try them all out.

I think about other parents, mostly the ones I serve at my preschool.  You see, becoming a father is more than me.  It’s the idea that I’m a father serving in a preschool and I get to meet other fathers.  Commonality is the foundation for strong relationships.  It’s more powerful to say to a parent “This worked with my child” rather than “You can try this.”   I hope fatherhood is a positive for my work (although, I wouldn’t recommend becoming a father just to boost your resume).

Moral of the Story: Lead by example.

Being a male in preschool is already a trail-blazing idea.  I’m a role-model for other guys.  But having a son is more than me becoming a father, but also the opportunity to be an example to other fathers.  And fatherhood means that I’m an example for another man… a much younger man… a man who earlier vomited milk on my shirt and urinated on my arm.  More than anything, I strive to be a good example for my son, Ethan.

Men, You Have Permission

Have you ever seen the movie Bambi?  Good.  Do you remember the scene when Bambi’s mother’s alert eyes as she senses that something is wrong and the hunter is nearby?  Can you picture those eyes?

That’s how some fathers and men look when they walk into a preschool center: like a spooked, wide-eyed deer.

bambimother3

“Am I supposed to be here?  I’m probaby the only guy in this building.  Okay, just keep walking, do the small talk, drop off your child, then exit.  I’ll go do something manly after this… like Home Depot.”

There is a popular view that preschool is a building meant for women.  Most preschools are staffed by women. You rarely see men. If there is a man nearby, then their waiting in the car and playing on their phone.

That needs to change.  Males are a rarity in early childhood education.  Those that are part of this early childhood world need to start going in the building.  The uneasiness and awkwardness men feel ease when they see another guy.  There is instant commaraderie.

Man, am I glad to see you!  I don’t know your name but you’re my friend.

It’s the same thing when men see me.  I’m like the Male Ambassador to the world of preschool.  Men see me and they ease up.  Their shoulders slouch from the ease of tension and stress.  The facial muscles relax as calming thoughts ease their thoughts.

My presence in a preschool center communicates a message: “Men, if I’m here, then it’s alright for you to be here too.”

Men, you have permission to put on a princess crown.

Men, you have permission to speak with a high-pitched voice and have a panda puppet on your hand.

Men, you have permission to sit at a table, your knees pressing against the edges, and enjoy a meal of applesauce and milk.

I believe in leading by example.  I show other fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and men, that it’s okay to be in a preschool building that is full of nursery rhymes, small toys, and building blocks.

Get invovled men.  You have permission.

Doyin Richards

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Did you know that, once upon a time, men were the primary educators of small children?  However, as time has passed, men have transitioned out of spending time with their children.  Now, if a male plays games, does their child’s hair, or changes a diaper – with a smile and without shame – then the guy is not viewed as a “man.”

This is false and damaging.

Men play an important role in small children’s lives and the stigma around this perception needs to drop.  Men need to step up and tell the world that father’s and males should play dress-up, pickaboo, and other childly games.  Read a story with all kinds of funny voices.  Children enjoy this.

Doyin Richards is doing that.  I applaud his photo and what he’s is standing for.  Early childhood education could use more father’s like him.

You can read his story here.

 

Mister Rogers

Fred Rogers on  Set

The longer I stay in early childhood education, the more I appreciate Mister Rogers.  He dedicated his life to helping children and everyone around him.  While searching for inspiration, I found a story that not only spoke to me, but spoke to Mister Rogers as well:

“There was a story going around about the Special Olympics. For the hundred-yard dash, there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and, at the sound of the gun, they took off. But one little boy didn’t get very far. He stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard the boy crying. They slowed down, turned around, and ran back to him–every one of them ran back to him. The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line.

They all finished the race at the same time. and when they did, everyone in the stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long time. And you know why? Because deep down we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.”  – Fred Rogers

I hope this speaks to you and maybe influences your life course too.  We may be teaching our students letters and numbers, colors and shapes, writing and running.  However, these are just skills.  What matters most is character.  Our children can have all the skills in the world, but what they do with those skills concern me more.

The 3%

The 3%

Being a male preschool teacher is a lonely profession.  But there are perks.  For example, during breaks at long conferences and workshops, there is never a line for the men’s bathroom.  And, if a school has a male ECE teacher, they’re probably pretty proud to tell other people.  Having a male early childhood teacher is like a status symbol.  “Our school is so good, we have a male teacher!”  I hope that’s not true, but saying you have a male teacher is part of the school tour.

Male early childhood teachers are a rare asset.  How rare you ask?  Of all the early childhood teachers in the United States, 3% are male.  However, what a male influence can bring to the profession is way more than 3%.

Males do things differently in the classroom, and my style of teaching is drawn upon a different set of preferences.  I like to use the following phrase to describe my teaching style:

As a teacher, I’m like Kleenex: soft, but firm.

My style goes further.  As a guy, I don’t wear an apron.  I just don’t. Unless I’m cooking – and fortunately, for my wife, it’s not that often – I’m not going to wear an apron.  That’s just not me.  Whether that comes from my gender or not, I prefer walking into my classroom with a shirt, hoodie, jeans, with a beanie or hat. During my lunch, I’m checking the sports scores (Go Pacers, Dolphins, SF Giants, and Sharks!). On the playground, I’m playing football, basketball and even baseball with small children (along with tag, obstacle courses, and running around the play structure.)  Sometimes I’ll sing some classic children’s songs, such as ABC, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or Row Row Row Your Boat.  But, I’d much rather sing a song with more of a hip-hop beat, or make up a song that goes along with a cool instrumental version of today’s popular music.

Early Childhood professionals list out many reasons why men don’t get involved in early childhood, and I’ll address the one about perception; the perception being that preschool work is a woman’s job.  This is sad.  Because we’re pretty much saying that a male should not get involved with young children until they are elementary age.  For men who are fathers, do we not want them to be involved with their children between 0-5?  I hope not.  As small children, my dad would play with my siblings and I all the time.  Both my mother and father were involved.

That’s fine.  Fathers should do that.  It’s just weird if a guy professionally works with young children.

To men who feel that working with young children is not “manly,” or that it would challenge their “manhood,” please speak with the children who have no fathers or male influences. Let me be clear: working in preschool is less about “your manhood” and more about providing these children with a male role model.  Early childhood education – and the children – deserve both women and men to be involved.  And, let me be further clear: my manhood is perfectly in tact.

I’m part of the 3%, but I’m also part of a smaller percentage.  Of the male preschool teachers out there, 0.3% are men of color.  As a male and Mexican, I’m a true rarity in this profession.  I get a lot of attention at conferences and workshops because I’m a male preschool teacher.  However, I’d rather not have that kind of attention.  I should not be a rarity.

I would love the day that I could sit back and watch Monday Night Football with a bunch of other guy preschool teachers.