Marco, an Early Years teacher working in Bristol has been telling us about the Third National Men in Early Years Conference due to be held 10th July at City Hall…
The Third National Men in Early Years Conference is shaping up to be an exciting day, with contributions from renowned names in recent education and gender studies literature, as well as a range of workshops and stalls run by organisations with years of experience and expertise in countering gender stereotypes in early learning and practice.
Personally, my interest in gender-neutral education started as a parent, and not as a professional, when my first child was born. Really, it originated from me and my partner’s commitment to equality, within and outside our relationship, and to respecting the right of our children to choose from an open, unbiased set of opportunities in those first years and in later life.
Despite the enjoyment and involvement in my children’s development, and my genuine interest in early learning, when I first approached Early Years teaching I was confused, almost dismayed. I felt it came with the low status, almost a stigma of my not being up to more manly, serious jobs. Nursery was – and sadly, in many places, still is – predominantly a female environment, where somehow a man has to struggle to be accepted and valued, to find his place.
I feel I found my professional and personal identity as a Early Years educator through, and in reaction to, this type of environment, even if things have changed a bit since then…
These issues continue to puzzle and challenge me, as an educator, and, once again, as a parent. It is with this stance, and with the resolve to question pre-determined roles in education, family and society at large, that I approached the Bristol Men in Early Years (BMIEY) network a few years ago.
It is starting to be common sense that society needs to address the gender imbalance in the Early Years, and that gender stereotypes are having, from birth, a negative impact not only on learning, but on the society as a whole.
For us, Early Years teaching and practice is still perceived as part of a general notion of ‘childcare’, and not valued in itself as addressing a fundamental stage in the development of children. We recognise that there are many barriers that prevent men working in Early Years, stemming more or less directly from the assumption that any ‘caring’ job is better done by women. Among these, one is the fear of being accused of paedophilia. The other is the low status and corresponding low pay attributed to the profession.
The Early Years are crucially important in terms of development as they are when perceptions, values and identity are formed leading to enduring habits of thought. As Early Years professionals, we are in the privileged position of affecting how children’s notions of gender are constructed and can potentially challenge the restrictive stereotypes that will shape their roles in society. Therefore, by changing our practice, we can reduce gender inequality.
Join us on Tuesday 10th July 2018, City Hall, Bristol, for the 3rd National Men in Early Years Conference. We want to continue the conversation around how we can effectively address the workforce imbalance and try to counteract the dominant cultural constructions that divide children needlessly. This will go a long way to highlighting the importance of addressing gender in the Early Years.
BMIEY are a city-wide network of men and women who work with children aged from birth to seven. Consisting of Early Years Practitioners, Teachers, Head Teachers, Governors, Childminders and Family Support Workers. They meet quarterly to share experiences and ideas as well as talk about current research and issues.
The Third National Men in Early Years Conference, will take place Tuesday 10th July 2018 at City Hall, Bristol. Register here.