Zhi Haifeng, 30, has attracted lots of attention since recently becoming the first male kindergarten vice principal in Hangzhou. Zhi is in charge of physical and art education at Zhoushan Road Kindergarten in Gongshu District.
People are so interested in Zhi because he is a trailblazer who is rare within the educational tradition of China. Most Chinese think only women are suitable for looking after kindergartners, which makes being a kindergarten teacher uncommon for men, not to mention having a man in a supervisory role.
According to the Educational Statistics Yearbook of China, there are only 10,000 men working at kindergartens across the country, meaning they are only 1 percent of the total.
Zhi was selected thanks to the Education Bureau of Gongshu District. The bureau has launched a project called “Men go to Kindergarten” three years ago, meant to augment the proportion of men in kindergartens and promoting the concept of “masculine education.”
The idea of “masculine education” was put forward by a group of Chinese educational experts a couple of years ago under the belief that kids, especially boys, have become more frail in recent years.
The idea is that schools, including kindergartens and primary schools, should emphasize the cultivation of traits traditionally considered masculine such as decisiveness and determination.
“Two to six years old is a sensitive period for formation of basic social norms. During this period, the main way kids learn is imitating adults. Compared with women teachers, male kindergarten teachers are more bold and resolute. Their importance in kindergartens is akin to that of a father in a family,” said Jin Wen, principal of Zhoushan Road Kindergarten.
In order to attract more male teachers, the Education Bureau of Gongshu District has come up with a series of preferential policies included in the project. First, men get an extra allowance each month; second, they are eligible to run for principal.
“If compete with women, we men are inferior to them in such aspects as singing and dancing. Now the project offers special openings to us,” Zhi said.
The vice principal opening at Zhoushan Road Kindergarten was open only to male teachers, and Zhi stood out from the candidates, officials said.
However, the incentives didn’t attract as many men as expected. During the startup period, the education bureau had to “borrow” male teachers from other primary and middle schools in Gongshu District.
The “borrowed” teachers were ordered to spend one day a week with the kids in kindergartens while they still worked for their original schools.
Zhi, one of the “borrowed” teachers, was an art teacher at Shuren Primary School in Gongshu District. Three years later, he decided to quit his job in Shuren to work full time at Zhoushan Road Kindergarten.
“My decision was not supported by my parents. I was a member of the management team of Shuren Primary School. And tell you the truth, the allowance offered by the education bureau doesn’t increase my income much since the salary of a kindergarten teacher is less than that of a primary school teacher,” said Zhi. “What has made the decision for me is that I have fallen in love with those lovely kids during these years.”
When Zhi began his kindergarten life three years ago, he encountered lots of difficulties. The foremost problem was that he found the teaching methods used in primary school inapplicable to kindergarten.
“For example, kids ran about in the classroom and I had no idea how to make them quiet down. Luckily, my colleagues lent a hand to me. They would sit in on my class, point out my problems and give me some useful advice and teaching skill pointers. Thanks to their help, I had adjusted to the kindergarten environment half a year later,” Zhi said.
Couldn’t braid hair
The second tough problem faced by Zhi was how to braid the hair of the girls when they got up after taking an afternoon nap. He still remembered the first time he tried to braid hair.
“I tried again and again, but still failed. The 4-year-old little girl glared at me angrily and said she looked down on me,” Zhi recalled, laughing. Afterward, Zhi had no choice but to practice over and over. Now he can braid deftly.
On the other hand, Zhi is focusing on integrating what are perceived as his masculine advantages into class instruction. One of his teaching duties is overseeing physical education and organizing outdoor activities.
Unlike women teachers who are considered more cautious about the kids doing physical exercises, Zhi encourages them to try the long jump, play with balls and participate in other simple games. “To be honest, now I am the most popular teacher among the kids,” Zhi said.
The project has had results in the past few years. There are now 18 full-time male kindergarten teachers in Gongshu District, accounting for 3.6 percent of the total staff at kindergartners. Gongshu government also established a Men’s Kindergarten Studio in April 2013 at Zhoushan Road Kindergarten, which is a gathering place for all of the male kindergarten teachers in Gongshu.
Source: Shanghai Daily