Home corner is for heroes

5th January 2007 at 00:00
Assuming a macho persona can be a lifeline for male infant teachers

male early-years teachers retain an image of themselves as strong, heroic trailblazers, despite the nurturing nature of the job, new research reveals.

The study, Heavy-Metal Humpty Dumpty by Jo Warin, emphasises that working with early-years pupils is still seen as a maternal, feminine job. But men in the profession find ways to convert this into more macho stereotypes.

Ms Warin, educational lecturer at Lancaster university, observed the role of Ian, a nursery-class teacher in an unnamed northern English town. Ian describes the nursery he works in as: "All nice pink pastel colours and women walking around everywhere".

Rather than sharing the nurturing role of these women, Ian perceives himself as heroically braving mockery and discrimination.

He sees himself as confronting prejudice and suspicion, but also fighting to protect his family. And he perceives himself as the breadwinner, whose right to support his family is threatened.

Ms Warin said: "Ian's claim that he may have to fight for his innocence positions him as a type of moral crusader, a pioneer within the professional world of early-years care and education."

Ian runs a group for pupils' fathers. These fathers also see him as a heroic pioneer, displaying courage in the face of public prejudice. They praise his ability to take ridicule like a man.

One said: "He's like an opening batsman in cricket. He's put himself up there for anything that's thrown at him."

The fathers also recognise a different form of bravery: the challenge of engaging in conversation with small children. Another said: "Sitting in the classroom with the kids was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life...

They're not an easy audience to please."

Men are also seen as possessing professional expertise, even in a field dominated by women.

Ian was soon considered to be an expert on paternal-involvement strategies, and asked to run similar sessions locally. The study said: "Ian found himself, like a lot of male staff within primary and early-years educational settings, fast-tracking to a position of expertise and greater responsibility, because of his rarity value as a male."

One in four men is likely to become a headteacher, compared with one in every 13 women. "Traditional dominant forms of masculinity will always come to the fore," said Ms Warin.

Heavy-Metal Humpty Dumpty: dissonant masculinities within the context of the nursery, by Jo Warin; j.warin@lancaster.ac.uk

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