Men at work

The lack of male role models in education at all levels is a cause for much national debate. Bedrock Journalists Michael Oliver and Suzanne Kowolski-Roth talked to two teachers who are bucking the trend.
Often, I think when people talk about what is best for the child they are really talking about what is best for the adults around those children.

With more than 26 years’ experience in early education, it’s no surprise that Louis Bradfield, Early Childhood Teacher at Maridahdi Community School, Toowoomba, is regularly asked to share his thinking and experiences at conferences and workshops. Louis has gained quite a following within the profession and is known for his outspoken ideals.

“I always wanted to work in early childhood education. My Mum was an assistant within a state preschool. It was from then that I started to formulate a belief about what was needed in that sector.”

Louis is quick to point out that although his relationship with early childhood education has always been passionate, it is not without its frustrations.

“It has been a bit of a love/hate relationship as I disagree so strongly with some of the paradigms being thrown around and ideas about what is best for the child. Often, I think when people talk about what is best for the child they are really talking about what is best for the adults around those children,” Louis says.

“When I first started I had this illusion that children were respected. In my experience this is not the case. It is more about control, conformity and pliability. Philosophically, I strongly disagree with this and Maridahdi has provided me with a space to explore other paradigms. I am able to explore new ideas and give the energy I think children deserve.

Louis Bradfield

“Every year the children and families who walk with me at Maridahdi continue to inspire me to explore the potential and possibilities.”

Discussions about the small number of males within early childhood education usually centre on notions of perceived feminisation of the industry and the lack of financial incentives, but Louis believes it’s not that simple.

“I believe a big reason that there are a decreasing number of males in the profession is this encroaching standardisation and rigidity.

“I could go down the usual path and say it is fears of paedophilia accusations or the lack of financial incentives that discourage males, but I am not so sure that is near the mark. Firstly, there was once a draw to early childhood because of flexibility of delivery. Different ways of doing things were explored. But I do not think that exists anymore.

“We see lots of dads involved here at Maridahdi – who walk with us and get involved because they are allowed to and they are invited. There is something about a more flexible, more playful environment that encourages males.”

Louis seems reluctant to believe that encouraging more men into early childhood education is a panacea that will improve the outcome of children across the sector.

“We just need good people whether they are males or females. They need to think differently and be allowed to act on those different ideas. They need to bring something new to the space that energises.

"While diversity is a great thing, our education systems need to reflect that. More than anything we want more people to walk into these spaces and say ‘Wow! This is amazing! I have so many ideas and energy that I want to share with this space.’ That is what we need. That is what children need more than anything.”

James Petrovic

Never a dull moment

As a young man James Petrovic planned to be a police officer. But working with children as a volunteer sports coach made him realise his passions lay elsewhere.

He did a Certificate 3 in childcare studies through TAFE and eventually enrolled at university to train to be an early childhood teacher.

He got a job in a long day care centre where he had done prac, and worked there for eight years before taking on his current position as Director of Cardiff Community Preschool, near Newcastle in NSW.

James was one of only two males in his course, and he says his peers rarely show interest in his career choice.

“Apart from the stereotypes about males working in early childhood, there is the low pay. I don’t think the pay is going to attract many young people, male or female, into early childhood,” James says.

“But males would be especially put off because of the stereotypes.”

As a young father, James says the lower salary he receives working in a preschool is a problem, but he loves his job.

“I have had to learn to live on a budget. But this job is so varied, it is never mundane. We teach the children, but we learn from them as well.

“Being part of the child’s life, and the family’s life, and knowing you’ve done everything in your powers to get them ready for primary school is so rewarding.

“I love that I can look after such a diverse age range, from six weeks to six years.”

James has real concerns for the future of the early childhood profession.

“Under sixes are not valued by government, there is a lack of funding. I think the school system should be the same for all ages, early childhood, primary and high, so that salaries for teachers and funding support are the same, no matter what age group you teach.

“It’s a real concern there are hardly any male role models in early childhood, especially as children do not always have access to male role models at home.

“It’s good for fathers dropping off and picking up their kids if there are some males to talk to. If governments want to address this, they need to look at salaries.”