Men in early childhood sector work harder to build trust, says teacher
When he started teaching 10 years ago, a crowd would gather outside his classroom and watch his every move.
Mr Lorbert Tay, 45, said parents were worried because of negative press about male teachers at the time, and half of his class wanted to withdraw.
With support from his principal, he turned things around. By the end of that year, children from another class were clamouring to join his instead.
He said: "You need to let the parents feel comfortable with your presence around the kids. If the kids are happy, the parents will be happy and they will trust them with you."
But a decade later, doubts about male early childhood educators still remain, said Mr Tay, a centre manager at pre-school chain Carpe Diem.
Men in the industry have to work harder to build trust, he said, and restrictions on physical contact and other duties, such as taking the children to the toilet or changing diapers, means they often have to rely on their female counterparts and have fewer opportunities to connect with the children.
Said Mr Tay: "How we show affection to the kids is different from the female educators. They can hug and kiss them. We can show it only verbally."
But Mr Tay found ways to add value. At his first pre-school, he was the de facto repairman. At another centre, he was the one tasked with animal control, chasing away monkeys and monitoring lizards.
With more men in the sector now, a group of 40 to 50 of them have banded together to share experiences and help one another improve.
Said Mr Tay: "The number of men in the sector is definitely growing, but it takes more of us to advocate and get more to join. People think this is an industry with many minefields. But once you know where the boundaries are, you are safe."
Mr Darius Ng, 24, who teaches at The Little Skool-House at Temasek Polytechnic, has never felt concerned about being a male teacher.
For him, the restrictions placed on male educators help build trust with parents, and counter-intuitively, allows male teachers to operate more freely.
Mr Ng, who did early childhood studies in a polytechnic, said it was an internship at a kindergarten run by his former church that helped him set aside any initial worries or fears.
Joining the sector full-time two years ago, he said he has not felt the stigma that other male teachers have experienced.
"I love my job, and I hope to be here for the long haul." - KOK YUFENG