The Best Kept Secret

Gleann Jarvis is the only male out of approximately 80 students in his Associate Diploma in Early Childhood Education course. Peter Vogel asked him how he got into such a female-dominated field.

I was working various jobs in the retail industry. I enjoy contact with people, and quite liked that aspect of the work. Then one day a friend who worked in before and after school care said they were short-staffed and asked would I come and help out for the day. I discovered I really enjoyed working with children. Then a permanent job became available, so I applied for it. Having had that voluntary experience got me the job."

I asked Gleann where the unusual spelling of his name (pronounced Glen) comes from. He said he has no idea, because his parents died when he was very young and he has no way of knowing his family background. Did being an orphan contribute to his desire to work with children?

"As a child, I didnít have the benefit of a loving family, and I always said to myself, when I grow up, I hope I can give children what Iíve missed out on. Now that I work with them, I find that the giving is a two-way thing. When Iím really engaged with a child we feed off each otherís strengths. The children teach me just as much as I teach them"

. Whatís special about being a man in this womenís profession? "Iím a bit of a novelty. Sometimes I get strange looks, but I also get lots of positive comments from parents. I love it when they tell me that their children talk about me at home: Gleann said this, Gleann said that - in positive terms of course!

"There have also been times when some children have just seemed to respond to me better as a male than to the female staff. One time I was asked to go to another centre where one new boy was having big problems. His father did not live with him and his mum, and he had very little male contact in his life. He was refusing to do anything the women at the centre invited him to do. He was much happier to do things with me, and after just two days he was fine. It seemed like he wanted a man to tell him that itís okay to join in with all the girls and women. I think itís also just a matter of variety. The children know that men do things a bit differently to women, and they like the change."

What about the suspicions and prejudice against men being around children? "It depends on the area you work in. Iím presently working at Balmain, where most parents are well-informed about gender issues, and aware of the benefits of having some males around so that their children donít grow up believing that childcare is womenís work. In other areas, there is still the irrational fear of men. The directors of some centres will say, ĎSorry, I couldnít employ you because some parents would be wondering why a man would want to be around children.í But Iím sure thatís changing." The rules about closeness with the children are a matter of the individual centreís policy. At his present workplace, a book is kept in which parents can write how they want the staff to deal with their child should he or she need comforting.

Gleann has taken time off work to study, with the encouragement of his employer. On completion of the two and a half year course he will be qualified to run his own centre, although he has no ambition to be an employer at the moment. "The main reason for getting the qualification is so that I can have more input into curriculum. The extra pay will be nice too." His particular interests are craft activities and poetry. He combs the library shelves looking for quirky and fun poetry that makes him and the children laugh.

These days, it is a refreshing change to meet a man as enthusiastic about his career prospects as Gleann. "I think early childhood education is one of the best kept employment secrets. Itís one of the biggest growth industries, and one where men especially are in short supply. If you have the qualifications as well, you can take your pick of the jobs. Most other occupations - especially traditionally male ones - are laying off staff. And the work is good fun and very satisfying."

Gleann also points out, with a gleam in his eye, that the opportunities are not limited to working in a centre - cruise ships and holiday resorts also provide child care.

His advice for men interested in exploring the field? Find out what the work is really like by doing some volunteer work. Most centres are happy to have the extra help, and the children like to see a new face.

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