Kindergarten and the Elusive ‘Nan Ayi’

Society & Culture — By on June 14, 2011 5:16 am
Male Teachers in China

Male kindergarten teachers are the proverbial needle in a professional haystack dominated by women. Photo by Lizzie Chen

By Nimshi Perera
For ChinaInFocus

Yan Xin started teaching kindergarten at age 22. Though teaching his students at Zi Gong No. 3 Kindergarten in Si Chuan Province “made me feel happy and young,” he said, the salary was not enough to make ends meet, forcing him to get a second teaching job in order to save money for continuing his education. Eventually he quit teaching altogether to return to academia for a master’s degree in ancient Chinese cultural studies with a focus on Bashu culture.

In China today, male primary school teachers are few and far between despite the fact that educators tend to agree that having male role models in the classroom is critical for the maturation of both young boys and girls, and for development of thinking and life skills. Yet despite the demand, low salaries and social stigma often deter males from signing on. According to the Beijing Municipal Education Commission, the desired ratio of male to female teachers in kindergarten is 20 percent, though in many city school districts the numbers are often only two or three males for every 30 to 40 females.

Educational researcher Gordon Sang said that Chinese culture has regarded teaching as a female profession and looks down on men who teach young children. In an era of social and economic development, however, more men are starting to join the ranks, but not enough to meet the needs of schools. Sang said about 3 percent of those graduating with degrees in education are male.

The term nan ayi, or male auntie, has been used as a derogatory term for men who choose to teach. When asked if he was familiar with the term, Wang Shuo, a teacher at the Chongwen district No. 3 Kindergarten in Beijing, said it didn’t bother him. When he first started teaching, he said people in the school’s neighborhood and his friends had weird feelings about his choice. However, over the past eight years his female colleagues have accepted him as one of their own. He said he also gets on well with his students and their parents.

In 1990, the Beijing Dongcheng District Vocational Training Center opened its preschool education major to male students. Jie, who teaches math education at the center (and wanted to be identified only by her family name) recalled that over the years male students have not shown interest in education. “The parents of potential students don’t want their sons going into this field,” she said.

However, when asked about future recruitment, she noted, “We have been working hard to drum up interest for the program so hopefully we will have more males joining the program than in the past.”

From a psychological standpoint, Jie said she believes it’s not easy for young children to develop an integrated personality when they are taught by women only. “Students [should] have the opportunity to understand the male perspective on social issues leading to a better development of both male and female students.”

Wang Shuo offered an example. When one of his students fell down during recess and began crying, a female teacher rushed over and asked, “Where does it hurt?” Wang stepped in and told the child, “When you fall down you must be brave, don’t stop to cry about where it hurts.” Wang hopes his student will remember this instance when coping with failure, you must pick yourself back up.

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