A male kindergarten teacher’s account
Every day at work, Gao Zhigang switches between several roles — a playmate, a big brother and a father — for his class of children at China Welfare Institute Kindergarten in Shanghai.
The children obviously adore him, seeing how they swarm him with hugs and hi-fives every morning. They have also affectionately dubbed him “Brother Luobo” and “Old Daddy Luobo”, a play on his English first name which is Robert.
“I really enjoy the feeling of being a close friend rather than a teacher to these children. I guess this is because they spend most of the day with me and not anyone else,” said Gao, a leading teacher who has taught in the school for six years.
Following graduation from university with a degree in education, Gao’s first job was at an early learning center where he spent most of his time singing songs with kids and talking to them about their favorite cartoon characters.
Like all the other kindergarten teachers, Gao spent one year as an intern working with different classes and age groups before serving four years as an assistant teacher.
Over the years, he has learned from his female colleagues how to be attentive and patient while retaining his masculine traits, such as exuding confidence and bravery. He showcases these masculine qualities when he conducts the regular tree climbing activities, something that was absent from the curriculum when there were only female teachers in the kindergarten.
“Every time they climb up to the top of the tree and pluck the oranges with their own hands, they obtain confidence and pride. These are things that they cannot learn from books and cartoons,” said Gao.
Male teachers like Gao are often tasked to help children learn via practical activities, instead of simply through pictorial facts and information.
Some of the other activities he has conducted involve having the kids put biscuits and water into a sealed bag to simulate the function of a stomach.
“I prefer to apply more direct and practical methods, such as games and activities, to showcase the information to the kids in a more interactive and vivid manner,” said Gao.
Compared to his female counterparts with similar working experience, Gao said that he has more opportunities to take on open classes which are normally reserved for more experienced teachers.
“I am heartened that male teachers, as the minority in the kindergarten, have been warmly welcomed and given more opportunities to show off our abilities and learn from our peers,” said Gao.
However, he admits that the pressure from society — that professionals like him don’t earn enough compared to peers in other industries — still has a certain effect on male kindergarten teachers like himself.
He said that this is one of major reasons why there is a shortage of male teachers despite the rise in public recognition of their profession.
“We’ve noticed the changes in parents who are now willing to have their kids, especially boys, taught by us male teachers. However, there still needs to be more positive support from the public if more men are to join this industry,” said Gao.
Gao Zhigang takes children through a class on cultural costumes.