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One answer to Illinois’ dire preschool teacher shortage: men


January 11, 2019
Cassie Walker Burke
Chalkbeat

Giving a brief tour of her Hyde Park childcare center on a cold recent morning, Chicago Child Care Society CEO Dara Munson stops by a classroom where a dozen or so small children are lined up in parkas, mittens, and winter hats. Like a line of colorful padded ducks, they eagerly trail one of the lead teachers — a tall man named Lee Tate — out toward the playground.

“They love him,” Munson whispered.

Across town a few weeks later, Dexter Smith, the director of the Truman College Child Development Lab School, describes with similar enthusiasm the way children at his center embraced a part-time male staffer. When that employee left the three-classroom center to pursue a full-time job at a private preschool, his staff was again all-female, with one notable exception: himself.

“Men interact differently with children, they can be more playful, more interactive, more willing to tumble them upside down,” he said. “Women don’t typically do that.”

Turnover, shortages, low pay: Advocates, daycare owners, and educators have sounded alarm bells lately over the dire preschool teacher shortage in Illinois — an issue that’s growing ever more critical in the wake of outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push for universal pre-K. The challenges of low wages, burnout, and churn have become persistent impediments to full staffing.

Perhaps one overlooked solution: men — particularly men of color. In Illinois, women predominantly make up the early education workforce, with men counting for fewer than 2 percent of licensed teachers in certified childcare centers and only 20 percent of teaching assistants, according to a 2017 report from the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

That percentage drops even more dramatically when you consider men of color in classrooms, said Shawn Jackson, a former science teacher and elementary school principal in Chicago Public Schools who now runs Harry S. Truman, one of the city’s seven community colleges.  “When I started thinking about how we can find ways to encourage more men of color to get into classrooms, I thought about the lack of tangible role models who are there every day.”

These observations, coupled with forecasts of how many teachers will be needed in the future to power schools in the Chicago area and beyond, have helped fuel a “Men of Color” teacher training program.