I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I dressed in khaki pants and a polo shirt and prepared to attend my first day of orientation as a pre-K teacher of 3- and 4-year-olds. I walked through the school doors for the first time, taken aback by the miniature size of the furniture I saw as I peeked into an empty classroom. I wasn’t the only one in for a surprise. When I arrived, a female colleague greeted me by exclaiming, “Wow, you’re a man!” This puzzled reaction was one I would receive often during my four years of teaching young children.
If someone were to visit today’s early childhood classrooms, they would be struck by the almost complete absence of male teachers. In fact, while the teaching profession as a whole is predominantly female, this is particularly true in the early grades of pre-K and kindergarten, where men make up only about 2 percent of the teaching force. At a time when many male-dominated fields like manufacturing are shedding jobs, and most of the fastest-growing industries, such as health care and education, are ones that have been traditionally performed by women, this could be a crucial opportunity to encourage more men to enter the important field of early childhood education, particularly since the United States lags behind most other industrialized countries in access to early education. Studies show students benefit when they are surrounded by a diverse group of teachers that reflect the makeup of society as a whole, including educators of different races and genders.