Under suspicion for wanting to teach nursery kids
When Darren Murray talks about his chosen career he is often met with ridicule and even suspicion. Potential employers are uneasy, parents are apprehensive and even his friends are mocking.
The 24-year-old has done nothing wrong, yet he is criticised because he wants to use his teaching skills in a nursery setting.
Statistics show there is just one registered male teacher working at a nursery school in the whole of Wales.
The General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) estimates that only a handful of other men, including Mr Murray, teach nursery classes in primary or infant schools.
Mr Murray is currently working at Ysgol Bryn Coch, a three-to-11 primary in Mold, Flintshire, on a year-long placement.
He now wants to dispel the stigma attached to men who want to teach younger children and encourage more male teachers to work in nursery settings.
The gender gap between male and female teachers in Wales is growing, especially at primary level (see box).
Some claim that many men are put off primary teaching because they fear being labelled as paedophiles - an attitude with which Mr Murray is familiar.
"There's always suspicion about why you want to teach younger children," he said.
"Some people say men aren't caring enough to teach early-years classes, but that's nonsense; you have to care and have an element of compassion to be a successful teacher at any level.
"I also think pupils get a more balanced and well-rounded early-years experience with input from male and female role models."
When he started looking for teaching work with his girlfriend Louise Baines in their native Carmarthenshire last year, supply agencies assumed he wanted to teach junior classes and Ms Baines infant, he said.
"I applied for lots of jobs and there were some schools where the heads said they would feel uneasy about having a man in early years," he said.
Academic research has suggested that having a more balanced workforce does not have an impact on pupils' results.
But Lynne Williams, head of Bryn Coch, said: "We have always tried to have a male member of staff in each year group if possible because I think a male influence is important."
Seven of the school's 23 full-time teachers are men, an unusually high proportion.
"I wasn't worried about employing Darren, but I wondered what the reaction was going to be from some of the parents, but it was all very positive," she added.
Mr Murray urged aspiring male nursery teachers to ignore any negative associations with the job.
He said: "It's so rewarding; men shouldn't be scared to go for it and heads have no need to be fearful."
- Original headline: Under suspicion - for being a bloke who wants to teach nursery-aged kids