Senior Nursery Manager Damien Saul gives his account of working as a man in childcare.
Ever since I can remember I have always wanted to work with children, originally as a teacher, but unfortunately not being so academically minded, teaching was ruled out and it was suggested that I look at doing what was the NNEB qualification instead.
Seeing this as just another route to being able to fulfil my ambition to be a part of a child’s education, I went along for an interview and was offered a place a couple of days later. On my first day, I definitely wasn’t ready for what greeted me.
I entered the room, and found out very quickly that I was the only man in there, out of about 60 people! It was like Moses parting the Red Sea, as I walked from the front of the room to the back very quickly. Now I’m not a shy person but 60 pairs of eyes staring at you is an unnerving thing to experience.
Things could've gone two ways for me; I could have been frightened off and intimidated or I could hold my head high and actually just be myself. I chose the second option, and haven’t looked back since. At no point did I feel like I shouldn’t be there; in fact, all I heard was how amazing it was that finally there was a man on the course, how great it was to finally see male representation in childcare. Was this really going to be as simple as it was coming across?
I had to do 4 different placements, and all of them taught me a huge amount, but what I learnt the most was how incredible a feeling it was to be welcomed and not made to feel like the odd one out. My favourite placement was in a local school nursery, where I have to admit I felt very unsure and found I was actually the one making judgements. The nursery teacher was a lovely lady close to retirement and before I had even spoken to her I assumed that she would be ‘old school’, that she would be against me from the start, but I could not have been more wrong. She instantly pushed me to achieve, constantly encouraged me, and when OFSTED came in to inspect the school, she made a point of telling the inspectors that she wished there were more men like me in childcare. It was so important, in her opinion, to the all-round development of a child.
After 2 years of learning, I began work in my first nursery, and loved every minute of it. I had a great relationship with the children and the parents, and became a member of a great team, some of whom are still good friends today. I was conscious that during visits with new families, some of the parents (mum or dad) would come into the room and glance over in my direction a couple more times than you would probably expect; it never felt like they didn’t want me there, but more a look out of curiosity. I was never shocked that there was an element of surprise; why wouldn’t there be? I knew myself that a man in that kind of a childcare setting was unusual, but no one ever made me feel that they didn’t want me there.
Having now been involved in childcare for over 25 years, I can honestly say that I have been very lucky in my time as a student/practitioner, that I have not personally encountered any prejudice towards me (well none that I have ever been made aware of). Ironically in my role as Nursery Manager I have had to deal with parents raising concerns about other male members of staff. It has always baffled me that they have no issue raising concerns about a man in childcare to another man in childcare, but then it amazes me that anyone would be concerned with regards to a man working in childcare anyway!
I consider myself very lucky and fortunate to be a member of the Bright Horizons family, as the support that is there for both male and female practitioners is better than I have seen offered anywhere before. To have a dedicated team of people who will listen to concerns and offer advice and support makes it worth joining the childcare profession.