Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Mark Walker From New Zealand by Mike Prochaska
Mark Walker works at Active Explorers in Masterton, New Zealand. He took time out of his busy schedule (and being a dad of two!) to answer a few questions about working in the Early Childhood Education field.
Q. How do you get into this field?
“In my last years at college I wanted to teach at primary/secondary level and did work experience and mentoring for others at these levels, however (even after being accepted to three universities in New Zealand) I decided a gap year is just what I needed at the time. During this time, I did a diploma in business, got into tourism and worked in the hotel industry a few years. After having my first child with my wife, Catherine, I started noticing not having the weekends off and unpredictable hours from week to week just wasn't working as well for me and my family.
“When my daughter was just 6 months old we both started our Bachelor’s in Teaching ECE with Open Polytechnic. The lecturers at the interview even rang us to say we could take our daughter with us to the interviews and pre-entry test and held her while we did the tests together at the campus … In 2015, I spoke at my graduation in Wellington and have almost finished my provisional registration. The early childhood community in Wairarapa, New Zealand, and overseas, have all made my experience in ECE a great one. The support from lecturers and families has made it even more enjoyable.”
Q. What do you see as the advantages of having male teachers?
“I think it’s important for male teachers to be involved in ECE. Growing up without a male role model very early on in life myself is probably why I resonate with it so well. The same should also be said for female teachers with children who don't have female role models in their lives, too. I would like to say that males bring about a different approach to teaching and achieve different things with the children, but in my experience, already I know that any teacher, regardless of gender, if they want to respond to an interest or place an experience into the community of practice, they will find a way … even getting professional development to do so.
"The one thing both myself and other ECE professionals I currently work with, and have worked with over my study, have found is that being a male in ECE has shown the breakdown on gender stereotyping even more so. Girls do want to do the so-called boy stuff like drill screws into wood, use hammers, play a rougher sport competitively. And boys, sometimes they do enjoy reading a book under the trees outside on a sunny day or do some gardening. Some children may not always get time with their positive role models in life (whether male or female) to do these things.
"We live in a society where children are taken from place to place all the time with family’s busy schedules and work commitments are often beyond normal office hours. I certainly think that male and female teachers bring so much to each and every day they spend with the children and their families, male educators being in ECE (or any level of schooling) should be seen as 'the norm' and on par with female educator numbers.
"It's about moving forward, seeing female mechanics and builders, seeing male educators and nurses. We are lucky here in New Zealand and in many countries around the world in this time where we get to choose any career and pave the way for the next generation to be great leaders in any area they choose.”
Q. What is your favorite memory about working with kids?
“My favorite memory in working with young children is certainly those little achievements, especially when they have been trying so hard to achieve something or are interested in a particular skill/thing in their home environment, and while keeping in contact with the family around this they achieve it in either the home environment or at my work. It’s great to see the family and child so thrilled if it’s something they have worked hard toward, and knowing that we contributed to that also. I also enjoy having families see me in town and share with me their continuing growth. I've had families from my first placement approach me and their child is now at intermediate which makes me feel old … it’s only going to get better.”
Q. What is your favorite book to read to class?
“I like CD books in that they bring children to the mat. The kids love them. We all enjoy the Reo books like "Maranga Mai" and "Kei te peke ahau," and we also enjoy others like 'We're Going on An Egg Hunt."
Q. What is your favorite activity to do with your class?
“My favorite activities are ones that are Interest-based and spontaneous, but I also enjoy planned experiences that further life skills such as cooking experiences, growing your own vegetables and more. Through these, more than anything, I enjoy enhancing the social skills, so they grow confidence to get involved, be proud of their contribution to the group, know what’s fair, speak out when it’s not and more. Anything that highlights children’s creativity and encourages them to heighten it is also an interest of mine.”
Q. Anything else you want to tell us about working with young children?
“It’s great to see young children's interests heighten their learning, and to see how excited they get when they achieve something they have been persevering with for a while. When following each child’s unique set of interests through their play, whether planned or unplanned experiences, it’s amazing what knowledge young children can accomplish. From knowing simple or complex shapes, an array of dinosaur names, more in-depth knowledge about their favorite animal, learning a life skill like cooking, or learning more about the people, places and things around them. It's certainly a rewarding career choice and it's those little and big achievements that make not only my day, but the child's, and family's, too.”
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