She can, He can is an original AsiaOne series where we showcase Singaporean men who are working in female-dominated jobs and their empowering personal journey in overcoming stereotypes.
“I cannot think of anywhere else I want to be or any other job I want to do”, states Shane Lim.
From the moment you sit down with the male pre-school teacher, you can see that his passion for the job is quite evident.
Speaking to AsiaOne, Shane, 31, adds that he’s driven to “develop children to their fullest potential” to “better prepare them for the future”.
The teacher at Little Mighty Me has been in the early childhood industry for seven years, but his enthusiasm hasn’t wavered the slightest bit — even if he is constantly surrounded by a classroom full of noisy kids.
Shane chalks this down to his “keen interest” in interacting with children and nurturing their growth.
It all started when he started volunteering in the children ministry of his church in his early twenties that set him on his current path.
Through teaching Sunday school, Shane was able to witness the growth of his young students and decided to take the plunge to make teaching his full-time career.
Hard to believe then that teaching wasn’t even his dream job while growing up — he wanted to be a scientist.
The road to being a pre-school teacher
Despite getting his early childhood education diploma from Seed Institute, Shane admits that he was hesitant about signing up as a male pre-school teacher.
He had fears of being “judged” or being looked down on as a nanny since there was a general impression that pre-school teachers were not “professional teachers”.
Furthermore, Shane also had reservations that he would be branded as a paedophile.
But all those lingering doubts vanished after he took his first class.
Sharing that it was a personal “turning point”, Shane was able to get a disobedient child to be more “receptive” and listen to what he had to share. It was then that he realised that he “can make a difference in the [early childhood education] sector”.
This realisation empowered Shane to push on in the face of other obstacles in his chosen path.
Early childhood education has traditionally been seen as a female-dominated industry and Shane shares that he previously heard of pre-schools that wouldn’t hire a male pre-school teacher.
This is down to the simple fact that there are restrictions limiting the scope of their duties beyond teaching in the classroom.
For instance, a male pre-school teacher is not allowed to handle certain aspects of student routine care. Certain sensitive tasks such as bringing kids to the toilet or showering them are a big no-no for male teachers.
Though Shane adds that male teachers do make up for it through other aspects of student care such as helping with mealtime — from food prep to assisting the kids to eat — as well as preparing the cots for nap time.
What’s more, he tells us that there are other benefits that a male pre-school teacher can bring over his female counterparts.
“In fact, a male teacher can give them (the children) a different kind of affection – fatherly love more than motherly love.”
Elaborating on, Shane says that having a male teacher also allows the children to learn and be comfortable interacting with male figures in life.
You are not alone
While there used to be a stigma against male pre-school teachers, that is fast changing for the better.
Shane tells us that parents would have been sceptical of a male teacher when he first joined the field, but “parents are pretty encouraging now”.
In his case, he credits his good relationship with his students’ parents because they can see progressively all the good work that he has been putting in and slowly warmed up to him.
Sharing that being a pre-school teacher is as much educating parents as the children, Shane explains that he needs to identify a child’s developmental needs and “support the parents at home with his teachings”.
Now, those same parents are singing his praises and calling for more male teachers because “they bring a different kind of flair and perspective to the children”.
And the parents aren’t the only ones who are supporting Shane and male teachers in general.
Shane shares that his female colleagues throughout his career understand the restrictions surrounding male teachers and have also been “very supportive” by helping out with the kids’ showers and toileting. He appreciates their efforts and sees it as another step in the right direction.
Furthermore, as part of an all-male pre-school teacher support group Men in Preschools, Shane can count on a few hundred of his fellow male teachers for help in overcoming work challenges that are not shared by their female colleagues.
Ranging from principals to junior teachers, the Men in Preschools group allows Shane to share and bond with his fellow male early childhood educators over their shared job experience.
He admits that he is also very lucky to have the support of his parents and friends who knew all about his passion for nurturing children.
The times are a-changin’
With such an excellent support system in place for Shane, he has every right to be upbeat about the future of male pre-school teachers.
Besides an influx of male teachers coming into the field today, he says it is “definitely a good sign that the society is more accepting of male preschool teachers and the companies are actually looking to hire more male preschool teachers”.
Despite the lingering negative perceptions, with time, Shane says that they “would overcome it and [they] all have overcome it”.
What’s more, Shane see this inclusive move as a step in showing that gender is not the most important thing in a pre-school teacher.
According to Shane, the most important thing to him is what valuable lessons you can bring and teach to the children of the next generation.
Along with that, he also highlights a never-say-die attitude as an attribute that a good pre-school teacher should have as it helps to “build resilience and perseverance through the tough times”.
It is this attitude that is vital for new teacher starting out as it’s a job with many challenging aspects – especially when it comes to “handling parents”.
Another attribute that a good pre-school teacher should have is a positive mindset, according to Shane.
“Sometimes things can look very bleak or very difficult, [and] having a positive mindset actually helps you push through it.”
Ultimately for Shane, “being a teacher itself is a fulfilling job” since he gets to see children grow, stemming from the fact that he spends as much time with them as their parents do.
He shares that it “fills his heart with joy” whenever he sees his students “achieving a milestone that they previously couldn’t”.
It is precisely this joy that has kept him “going throughout these seven years”.
When we ask him if he has any word of advice for aspiring pre-school teachers, Shane urges them to be “courageous and take that leap forward”.
He says that “step of faith will bring so much joy and fulfilment in your life”.
This article was first published on AsiaOne and republished on theAsianparent with permission.