Are Men Welcome in Early Childhood Education?

LNP Noah

I hire men to work at my preschool. Correction, since I opened six years ago, I have hired one (little) man, my fourteen year old son Noah. The infrequence of hiring men has not been a conscious or purposeful choice.  Men simply do not frequently apply.

Noah grew up with preschoolers in our home.  At the age of seven, he dubbed himself the official ambassador of new students, making sure they felt welcome and like they had a friend from the moment they arrived. He has picked up on a lot over the years, he knows the importance of being kind and patient, and giving the students limits for their health and safety.  He assists the other teachers, and is an all-around asset to our program.

I have had parents ask me in the past “You don’t have any men on your staff do you?”

We don’t question a male kindergarten teacher, so why is there a double standard for males in pre-education in the state of South Dakota?  Does my son love an industry in which he will not be welcome? Of course, he can always work for mom, but why should his options be limited?

There are men and boys in early childhood education in South Dakota.  There are a small handful at large centers in Rapid City and other towns.  It would be illegal for anyone to admit that they try to avoid hiring men (and also very wrong).  There is also a small group of male center directors. I can name two.

The disproportion of males and females in education is nothing new.  Taken from the National Center for Education Statistics in 2012, public schools in South Dakota have 23% male teachers, and 77% female.  This is close to the national average for male to female teachers.  The difference in early childhood education is far greater. Out of all of the courses I have instructed for early childhood educators, I have had only one male in class twice.  This is compared with hundreds and hundreds of women.

There are several factors causing the lack of men in our field.  Many of them are based on misconceptions and biases.  Early childhood educators need to support and advocate for each other.  Equally important, men must be supported and welcomed to our field.  Just as our field can be judged as unprofessional, men are being unfairly categorized as unfit to be in the early childhood education classroom.

Battle Misconceptions of Men in Early Childhood Education

Men can be pivotal role models for the children in our care: Positive male role models are important to all students.  It creates a healthy balanced classroom culture to provide diversity (this extends to cultural diversity as well).

 Inclusion of qualified men will create more equality in our field, and may lead to increased recognition of our profession and increase pay. Any profession that shows a balance of males and females is more revered and progressive.  Early childhood educators push to break away from the label of “babysitter”, but then some support the idea that it is “women’s work.”  This is a bizarre double standard.

Men undergo all of the same background checks: Male teachers complete all of the same training and background checks.  To assume children will not suffer physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from a female instructor based simply on gender is naive and dangerous.  All staff should be screened and then supervised to ensure the safety of students.

I encourage you to welcome men to education.  Whether you are in early childhood education, or are a member of the community, support and encouragement are key to growth.  It is unnecessary to point out, the “token male” in the room.  That is just as inappropriate as men pointing out the only woman in the room, or pointing out anyone’s racial or religious background.  Anytime we try to support others by saying, “I’m so glad to have one of your kind here.” it is counterproductive and unsupportive.  It should always be, “I am so glad you are here.” You as in, an individual person with skills, talents, and ideas to bring to the table.

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation.  Did you know this blog is read locally, regionally, and internationally?  Hello Wisconsin, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, California, Ireland, Germany, and England!  Believe it or not, educators from all over the world are interested in what we have going on out here in South Dakota. If you have anything to add to the conversation, you can contact me here, or at educationplantation@gmail.com

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Classroom Improvement: The $15 Summer Retreat that Cost Four Grand

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Forming a community classroom should be one of our biggest goals as educators. This is one of the reasons that I have continued to strive for the “in home” education feeling even though we are in a big building with many more students.  Children learn better in an environment where they feel emotionally secure and form genuine relationships with teachers and other students.  Viewing educational facilities as a daytime placeholder for children is very dangerous.  That viewpoint can lead to disconnected children who do not enjoy the school atmosphere, and an overall affect that can cause disruptions, defiance, and all around icky feelings in the classroom.

I began my preschool in home, and it was pretty easy for me to attempt to “control” the environment.  This isn’t really what is best for children because it doesn’t enable them with very important life skills.

We transitioned to being a center based preschool in 2014.  If you are like me, you are never quite satisfied with what you have.  While we have many good aspects to our program, there were some things that never quite settled with me.

First was the state required “big room.”  This is part of whether or not the rules provide what is best for children.  The state mandates that we have to have 35 square feet of play space per child.  This leads to most centers being one large open building (maybe with half walls).  This creates a cacophony of children, not the ideal environment for learning.

Another issue created with the “big box childcare” is the difficulty in creating relationships with children in large groups.  Not impossible, but were we making sure that each child felt connected to their environment?  This is something I contemplated for two years.

Don’t underestimate the power of one interaction, or meeting, or seminar.  These types of events have changed my life over and over again.

I recently attended the South Dakota Association of Child Care Directors summer retreat in Brookings, SD (my cost as a board member, $15).  The first part of the day was on the South Dakota State University Campus, and we received information on the Sanford Harmony Program.  As described by their website, “Sanford Harmony is a research-based, highly effective teaching strategy that strengthens classroom communities by helping each child understand and appreciate diversity in others.”

It is a free program for pre-k through elementary school students.  It includes unbelievable resources, books, cds, a stuffed “mascot,” and accompanying curriculum, all based on extremely important social emotional development. This could provide materials for expanding our focus on social emotional development! All. For. Free.

Hang in there, because we haven’t gotten to the part where I spent $4000.

The next part of our day was spent at the Children’s Museum of South Dakota and Bright Horizons Learning Center.  The Children’s Museum of South Dakota reminded me of what process based learning looks like, and fired me up to implement more of it in our school.  The tour of Bright Horizons on the other hand is where the problem came in.  They had classrooms, sections the size of our building that were configured in a way that we could make work.  So I went home and spent four grand on portable sound buffering dividers (with windows), moved our staff room into a smaller space, and solved a problem that had bothered me FOR YEARS.

You probably won’t have to spend $4000 to look at ways to streamline your classroom.  I encourage you to look around and ask yourself what you can do to improve the environment for your students.  Look for creative solutions to problems.  Also, look for extended learning opportunities in your region.  Every time I go to a class or a seminar, I always come back with at least one resource that we can use.  The opportunities are out there, but they won’t always come to you!

For more information about the places mentioned visit their websites:

Sanford Harmony Project http://www.sanfordharmony.org/

Children’s Museum of South Dakota http://www.prairieplay.org/

An Aversion to Leadership

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When I was in the fifth grade I became the student council president at my elementary school.

I had my campaign speech, with various promises for improving our student council and bettering the lives of our student body.

When I was elected to this position at the age of eleven, I became quickly aware of what politics could be, even for a fifth grader. Even though I had participated as a fourth grader, the experience was very different once I became “the leader.” I had limited power (unbelievable!). I had a tremendous amount of public attention on me. There were the critics who pointed out that they would do so much better if they had been president, and that my side pony tail was supposed to be on the left, not the right. There were the strange false friends who tried to cling to me out of some bizarre popularity boon. There were friends who took my busy schedule as me being too good for them anymore. The teacher in charge of the student council was one of those people who hates children, and teaches for the summers off (you know these teachers). After my year in student council, I decided politics were not for me and I never went back regardless of how many English, debate, and history teachers implored me to over the years.

Some people feel they are natural born leaders and they may even revel in conflict, attention, and being in the public eye. Some of us hate conflict and criticism. Given the choice of being in a coyote trap or in a room full of people I don’t know, I’m going to have to think about it. However if you are like me, you feel deeply compelled to make the world better place than you found it. Even if we’re uncomfortable or afraid, we can’t rob the world of what we have to say because we are fearful, or tired, or apprehensive.

Facing Aversions to Leadership

The Fear of Public Speaking: Public speaking refers to anytime you speak with the public, not just in front of large groups. The fear of public speaking can come from many sources, past negative experiences, lack of confidence in your message, feeling unprepared, or self-consciousness about your own skills of expression. Some fears of speaking to the public may stem from past trauma, if you have experienced a traumatic event it can make it very difficult to use your voice with people you do not know. If you struggle with a fear of public speaking, take a look at why you might be feeling that anxiety. Generally if we can come to the root of a reaction, we can have more control over it. This empowers us to plan proactively, instead of being stuck in the cycle of reacting.

Exhausting Mind, Body, and Spirit: Leadership can be exhilarating. When you are connecting with others and sharing new ideas you foster a tremendous atmosphere for creativity. Leadership can be exhausting. Constantly investing yourself in new ideas, projects, and people can be overwhelming. It is important to focus on quality instead of quantity. The best leaders also build up those around them instead of focusing on how their individual contribution is going to make everything better. Authenticity is another important key to avoiding exhaustion as a leader. I don’t like to look at authenticity as a “get of jail free card” to be unprofessional or rude. Authenticity is about being the best version of yourself that you can be, and doing anything else can be very taxing.

Feelings of Apprehension: One of the leading causes of apprehension is fear of peer rejection. It is important to build strong relationships with your peers, but you should be guided by an internal compass of self-awareness. The opinions of others should not determine the validity of your ideas or your self-worth. Another source for apprehension can be what is referred to as the “imposter syndrome.” Taken from a five year study conducted by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes from the University of Georgia, it is described as a feeling of, “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” The best way to deal with the imposter syndrome is to allow those feelings to pass when they arise, and to not discount what you are doing as unimportant.

There is a lot of pressure in early childhood education to stay in the traditional role of teacher or caregiver. Our ability to empathize and care for those around us is part of what gives us the potential to be great leaders.  It is important for us to focus on our schools, our industry, and our communities as a whole. It needs to be socially acceptable for early childhood educators to take on leadership roles, and we should not allow any aversions to leadership to hold us back from conveying our message and helping others.

There are many ways that you can be a leader. Leadership in areas large and small can impact the world for the better. Embrace leadership opportunities with coworkers, students, your children, and your community. Be aware of what may cause you fear, and plan proactively to face it. Invest yourself wisely, and remain authentic. Provide leadership with an internal purpose that can’t be swayed by what others think, or even more so, what you perceive they think about you.

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation. I appreciate your likes, comments, shares, and discussion! I am always interested in visiting with others, whether they agree with what I say or want to provide a different perspective! It is only through communicating and connecting with others that we formulate change!

Will Nap For Chocolate Milk: Building the Subconscious

Jessica LouI was visiting with my mom the other day and she mentioned how different things are now in child care then they were 30 some odd years ago.  She said, “When we needed care back then we didn’t give the same thought to it. No one was talking about early education.  You looked for a safe place to leave your child to play while you went to work.”

I was cared for by my great aunt through most of my childhood, but I do recall distant memories of group care settings.

There was a stretch of time when I was about three when I attended a child care center in Hill City.  I remember it as being dark, and the very best thing was every day at naptime they would let me lay down with a carton of chocolate milk.

When I was five and six, I went to a big facility in Rapid City during the summer. There are recollections of traveling on the bus to the swimming pool, and roller skating to She’s My Cherry Pie at the local skating rink.  There was also a large theatre in the building.  I did my first non-dance performance, lip-synching Manic Monday.  I remember the way the art room smelled, a mix of playdoh and poster paint, and the warm sand in the sandbox under the big cottonwood trees outside.

I hear many stories of what people remember from the early care settings of their childhood.  I’ve heard the stories from adults about the child care providers they loved as a child who now care for their children.  I’ve heard of the grandma who started out watching her grandchild and how that grew into a business that she loved for fifteen years.

I’ve also heard of the children who were forced to drink “purple medicine” every day and how they would awaken just before their parent’s picked them back up. I’ve heard of the centers where a child was grabbed and an arm was broken, because a teacher “lost it.”

I remember being alone and afraid at the age of three at the center in Hill City, and being handed chocolate milk and told to be quiet.  I remember being five and six and trying to have fun and make friends at the center in Rapid City.  I also remember being cornered and bullied by older girls, pinching me, pushing me, and calling me names. Every. Single. Day.

Children remember.  It shapes who they are. For better or worse our interactions with children count, every day.  The way we organize their environment, the way we show them that we care about them, and the way we encourage and empower them to be strong and stand up for themselves matters.  Every. Single. Day.

What will our children and our students remember?

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation.  I sincerely appreciate the emails, comments, and likes and shares these articles receive on social media.  Please continue sharing: Comment, connect, cultivate change!

Check out http://www.fractuslearning.com/ I will be a guest contributor to this blog August 28th!

 

Making the Impossible Possible

Laura Ingalls Wilder

This past weekend I was travelling back to Rapid City from Brookings.

We had pre-planned our route to be sure that we stopped in DeSmet to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder historic homes.  My daughters are ten and at the perfect age for Laura Ingalls Wilder to make an impact on them. They have begun to read her books, and were very excited to visit the places she lived, the schoolhouse she attended and the replica of the schoolhouse where she taught.

Laura began teaching elementary school at the age of fifteen in a one room log schoolhouse with no windows and one wood stove that her students would huddle by to keep warm during the winter.  Snow would blow in under the door, and through cracks in the walls.

I contemplated on the history of education in our state.  I thought about homesteading educators with the same spark and love for working with young children that we have, and about the impossible challenges they faced.  I also thought about the educators I know with less dedication, and how the academic crowd would thin if they had to face these types of circumstances.

I think sometimes our state forgets how hard the original homesteaders worked to make this part of the world liveable.  Our modern conveniences have distanced us from the struggles of the past.  We take for granted what has already been built, and take a complacent approach in continuing to build for the future.

Do we have a tendency to focus too centrally on how we can improve and support our classrooms and our centers, that we turn a blind eye to the ways in which we can work to make early childhood education in our state great?

Two observations from this past week stand out to me:

  1. On a conference call with the state regarding the new  Child Care and Development Block Grant Act, a provider became very passionate about the difficulty of meeting all of the new standards.  She also wanted to know why providers hadn’t had a voice in the changes.  Here is the problem, providers DID have a voice, two years ago when they were looking at developing the law.  There were webinars, conference calls, and even meetings we were invited to in Pierre.  Since the law was passed we’ve been discussing the new requirements and the plan for implementation for over a year.  THIS is why it is important to be aware of what is going on in Early Childhood Education on a state and national level.  We can’t just focus on our classrooms and centers and react to whatever is handed to us and claim we weren’t made aware.  That is not a question of being unaware, that is ignoring information that has been presented to you.  As a side note, I find the changes positive and necessary, and more information about them can be found here.
  2. I discussed the topic of last week’s blog regarding achieving higher education for our workforce with another director.  She told me that this deficit was pointed out to the State of South Dakota about sixteen years ago, and it was abandoned.  I’m paraphrasing here, but the state cited, “What additional benefits would early childhood educators receive with higher education? Will you be willing to pay them more?”  A valid point, but one which needs to be addressed, not swept under the rug for sixteen years while the state and local governments and the community at large tisk tisk at our underqualified workforce.

Our state was pioneered by a hardy, dedicated, and more then a little optimistic spirit.  We have to harness the kind of determination our state was founded on and strive for something better.  We have to work together to strengthen our workforce, and advocate for our rights and those of our students.  Attainable higher education opportunities need to be created, wages need to increase, a mentorship program needs to be re-implemented, we need to connect with our more rural facilities to provide resources and support, and we need to work with our communities and local and state governments.  All of this is coming, let me know if you want to get onboard.

What if South Dakota wasn’t one of the worst states for Early Childhood Education, what if it was one of the best?

Thank you for reading Early Education Plantation.  I sincerely appreciate the emails, comments, and likes and shares these articles receive on social media.  Please continue sharing: Comment, connect, cultivate change!