updated 26 Feb 2011, 17:42
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More men in nurseries, please!
by Clara Chow

DROPPING my son Julian off at his nursery a year or more ago, I was greeted by a new teacher who made me raise my eyebrows.

As kids went through routine temperature checks at the preschool's entrance, I couldn't help but check the teacher out curiously.

You see, Teacher Robbie is a man, a rarity in the early-education scene here.

A friendly, earnest young man, he had been attached - along with another male teacher, Malek - to Julian's school for a few months, as a "play-ologist".

After the initial surprise, I realised that both teachers were doing a wonderful job with Julian.

While my son liked his female teachers, his enthusiasm for his male ones was something different. Each day, he would talk about fun gym sessions with Teacher Robbie ("he said I did great on the A-frame"), or funny things that Teacher Malek said.

And while Julian had always enjoyed school, the months spent with both teachers took on the delightful hue of a boisterous boys' club. Somehow, the male teachers were able to connect well with my usually grumpy son, who was then three years old, with their matey talk and high-fives.

Then, their stints ended and they left for further studies and greener pastures. Suddenly, the testosterone-fuelled playground that the preschool had become lost a little of its lustre.

So, I can thoroughly understand the call for more male preschool teachers which came up recently.

In an interview with The Straits Times last week, early- childhood education expert Jackie Jenkins-Scott highlighted the problem of the dearth of male preschool teachers.

Men in classrooms with young children send out an early message that it is not just women who are responsible for caring for and nurturing others, she said.

I found it interesting that Dr Jenkins-Scott, the president of top-rated Boston-based Wheelock College for early-childhood education, cited how preschools with more male teachers tended to attract more involvement by fathers. Logically, it is easier for dads to speak dude-to-dude with male teachers, lessening the potential of awkward situations that can arise when volunteering alongside educators of the opposite sex in the classroom.

Unruly boys, too, can pick up a lesson or two from male teachers on how real gentlemen conduct themselves.

So, I am all for giving more opportunities to male preschool teachers, and working to change the prejudice against them.

It is not going to be easy, of course. With toddlers prone to wetting or soiling themselves, male teachers will inevitably have to deal with potty-training accidents. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports advises male staff in childcare centres not to participate in activities like bathing and changing the children.

More conservative mums I spoke to also feel uneasy about having male caregivers around their small daughters.

One mother I spoke to said she was okay with a male assistant teacher, but not a full-fledged one, because she was concerned that having a male main teacher may give rise to accusations of molestation.

That, however, is a broad assumption to make. What is there to stop a twisted female individual who becomes a teacher from molesting a child?

While there is nothing wrong about being apprehensive, I feel that such gender stereotypes and paranoia against male preschool teachers ultimately hurt the education system and disadvantage the children.

If most people agree that having two parents - a male and a female - is best for a child, shouldn't the same apply in any school room, too?

Social and institutionalised discrimination against male applicants to early-education centres, along with workplace restrictions and a strange inverse glass ceiling, will only cause dedicated male educators to leave the field. And that would be a shame.

Teachers Robbie and Malek, wherever you are now, thank you for having played a part in my child's life.

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