Dom Bell is an early childhood educator at Learning Adventures Mangorei and although he and his colleagues, Brian Rawlins and Aaron Mayhew, make up half the full-time teaching staff at their New Plymouth service, these male educators are in the minority nation-wide.
According to 2019 data, approximately 2.4 per cent of early childhood teachers in New Zealand were men (or 750 out of around 31,400 teachers), and Stuff reports that this is one of the lowest rates of male early childhood teachers in the developed world.
By way of comparison, male participation sits at more than 10 per cent in Germany, France and the Netherlands; and back at home, there are many reasons to encourage more Kiwi men to embrace a career in early childhood education (ECE).
A gender-balanced ECE teaching staff brings sizeable benefits for children, families, educators and the wider community; and to understand these upsides and step inside the shoes of a male early childhood educator, we spoke with Dom Bell.
We understand that your colleague, Andrew Mayhew, worked in a sawmill before becoming an ECE teacher. How did you get into the profession, Dom?
I got into ECE after teaching English to children in China for a few months. I applied for another teaching job in Macau, where my wife is from, which turned out to be an ECE job when I turned up for the interview.
ECE quickly proved to be my calling, so after a year of it, I returned to New Zealand to become a qualified ECE teacher at Auckland University.
Now that you’ve had several years in the profession, what do you enjoy most about being an early childhood educator?
I love being involved in such a vital period of child development, and having such a huge impact on children’s future development. I also love that I can be myself in this line of work – it’s fun, active and incredibly rewarding.
What are your favourite activities during the ECE day?
My greatest passion is music, and as a musician myself, much of my teaching experiences involve music and performance.
I also favour the outdoors and teaching amidst nature, including planting and gardening.
Learning Adventures Mangeroi is a perfect example of a gender-balanced ECE service, with its half-half split between male and female full-time educators.
What do you think are the main benefits of having both men and women teaching at an ECE service?
Men and women bring totally different energies and perspectives to a teaching team. EC-MENz says that gender-balance in ECE teaching adds another dimension to play, often with an emphasis on outdoor play, healthy competition and positive risk-taking, and although every male educator is different, I think there’s truth to this.
It’s also vital for young children to see men in nurturing roles in the community as well as women. And as male teachers interact with children, we can break down stereotypes, too (such as the stereotype that boys don’t play with dolls).
Gender-balanced teaching also allows children to see positive relationships modelled between men and women, which is so important as youngsters learn about the world and move through their lives.
Have you encountered any challenges or stigma during your career as a male ECE educator?
My reception into the ECE industry as a male has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging, but every male ECE teacher encounters stigma in some shape or form at some point.
The three of us at Learning Adventures Mangeroi were recently asked by a parent not to change her child's nappy because of our gender. It's a challenging conversation to have, but I tried my best to treat that parent with empathy.
In every other instance, whānau and colleagues have been enormously supportive of the importance and privilege to have male representation in the teaching team.
Although we’d love to see a much higher representation of male educators in ECE, there’s a feeling that many men are put off the profession because of its modest pay and the perception of ECE as ‘women’s work’ or ‘babysitting’.
What would you say to men who are interested in ECE teaching, but are yet to take the plunge?
I’d say that ECE teaching is the richest, most fulfilling job I’ve ever had, and it’s definitely not just women’s work. Every day is different, enjoyable and enriching, and if you’re interested in making a real impact on society and changing children’s lives for the better, you should definitely explore your options for ECE work and qualifications.
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