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Breaking The Gender Barrier To Become An Early Childhood Teacher

Half of NZ’s population is male but only 3 percent of early childhood education (ECE) teachers are men.

The ECE sector has a teacher shortage and more men are needed.

DJ (Donald) Sowerby is breaking gender barriers by becoming an early childhood teacher. He never imagined he would choose to work in ECE but at 49 years of age DJ can think of nothing he would sooner now do.

He has been awarded the Men in ECE Invitation Award. The award is designed to invite men to take up a career in ECE and let men know that they are welcome in the profession. It is provided by the Office of Early Childhood Education (OECE).

DJ is studying for a graduate diploma of teaching in ECE and is also working at an early childhood centre. He is a father of a two-year-old. Prior to entering early childhood teaching, DJ worked as a Vision and Hearing Technician (VHT) for the B4School Check Programme at Hauora Tairawhiti.

Dr Sarah Alexander, chief advisor to the OECE says that low male representation in the profession makes it difficult to attract men into ECE teaching because they do not see other men participating in this line of work.

Male ECE teachers are scarce.

“During my almost ten years of working as a VHT in Gisborne, I came across only two men who worked with children in early childhood centres,” says DJ.

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Dr Alexander says that although men are needed in the ECE sector because of the teacher shortage, the compelling reason was the educational value and social development benefits for children of having men present and involved in early childhood teaching.

“Boys need to see people of their gender, people like them, in the early childhood centre. And, all children ought to be seeing that early childhood teachers can be both men and women.

“Until men are well represented in early childhood teaching, children are learning from a young age that it’s women’s work and not a role for men. This is not desirable for children to learn from attending ECE,” says Dr Alexander.

DJ agrees: “I did not realise how gender roles were socialised at such a young age until I started working in ECE. I believe it is an important part of my work to impress on tamariki that they do not need to rely on these roles to determine their future, and that it is important that they follow their dreams no matter what they might be.”

Getting back into study at the age of 49 years is not an easy thing for anyone. But DJ is committed to gaining an ECE teaching qualification.

“I have found studying again after such a long period challenging, as I completed my BSc through Waikato University over 20 years ago.”

He is also enjoying putting his learning into practice.

“What really helps is that a significant part of our ECE studies is designated to working in an ECE Centre so I can be putting theory into practise and learn on the job so to speak,” says DJ.

As to what he will do after he gains a teaching qualification, DJ says he hopes to find a teaching position.

“I'm hopeful after I graduate that I'll be able to get a role as a teacher in an early childhood centre. Contributing in a positive way to a child's development has become a core professional value and a joyful part of my personal life, particularly after the birth of my son two years ago.”


Source regarding the ECE teacher shortage and gender imbalance in the workforce https://oece.nz/public/evidence/reports/ece-teacher-supply-and-workforce-strategy-recruitment-and-retention/

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