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Education

German kindergarten system seeks male carers

In Germany, there's one profession where women are grossly over-represented: Kindergarten teachers and day care workers. Can the schools find enough men before a 2013 daycare law comes into effect?

On a small piece of woodland next to the Technido daycare center in Karlsruhe, a group of boys noisily pile up logs into a makeshift fort. Amid whoops of glee, they start running around, wildly shooting at each other with sticks.

“Lennie and Karl," says Todd Phillips, a 47-year-old American who started working as a kindergarten teacher here a little over four years ago, "You know the rules - keep the sticks down at belly height. No sticks near anyone's eyes.”

Phillips was previously a graphic designer at an advertising agency. As he became increasingly dissatisfied with his job, he started looking for alternatives and decided that he wanted to work with children. Phillips is a rare breed in Germany.

Although the number varies according to region, just over two percent of the country's 360,000 nursery school and kindergarten teachers are male.

With a 13-million-euro ($17.4 million) research project called "Men in Day Care,” the government is trying to change that.

Deep voice and a beard?

"There is an educational interest in having men in day cares, because it's obvious that young children need male role models," said Burkhard Gaudy, deputy head of the Agneshaus vocational college, which trains nursery school teachers. "But this realization isn't new. What is fostering the push for male day care staff is the massive shortage of nursery school teachers in general."

In a classroom with a map on the wall, small children look expectantly at a blonde female teacher, whose back is to the camera
(Photo: Fotolia/Monkey Business 17000780)

Coming soon: one in seven nursery trainees is now male in Germany

As of mid-2013, all children older than one year of age have a right to a spot in a German day care. The new law has resulted in new a construction scramble to build new nursery schools across the country. Those schools are now desperately searching for staff.

“We would love to have men if we could find any," said Petra Hauser, head of the St. Angela day care center, which has no male staff. "At the moment we have difficulty enough finding anyone at all for our center.”

While the number of men enrolled in nursery care training is increasing, it is still just over 15 percent. Many cite low pay as the reason. Nursery school teachers earn around 2100 euros a month before tax. But there are many other professions that offer similar wages, such as mechanics, paramedics and butchers - and those jobs predominantly attract men.

Part three

"When looking for a profession, you think about what your interests are," Todd Phillips said. "I had to get older to realize … that I really like working in the moment."

In an outdoor, forested setting, a female kindergarten teacher in a white shirt helps a student in the middle of a small circle of children.
(Photo: Sabine Damaschke)

Some believe a male/female teacher mix improves learning

One of the things he likes most about working with children, Phillips says, is that he can use all of his interests, from music to art and sport in his job. And as a father, it is easy for him to be affectionate with the children when they need it.

"I can cuddle with the kids, sit with them on my lap. The nice thing about the job is this supportive role that we as kindergarten teachers offer for the kids."

In a sign that society is more at ease with men working with small children, fears of sexual abuse by male kindergarten teachers are surprisingly slight. A study conducted last year by the German Ministry for Family Affairs showed that the vast majority of parents completely trust males with their sons and daughters. Only five percent were skeptical about men looking after their offspring.

Trainee nursery school teacher Konstantinos Karapanagiotidis also found a lack of skepticism - in this case with friends and family.

"None of my friends gave my any flack about wanting to work with children," he said. "My parents completely supported me, too."

Even though he still has four semesters of study to go, Karapanagiotidis has already secured a spot for his final year work placement.

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