Photo by Alexis Jenkins
At age 19, Daniel de los Reyes was uncertain of what he wanted to do with his life. After graduating from Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, Md., he took a job restocking shelves and assisting customers at the local Target in Silver Spring, Md.
His mother, Ana, worked at the Gan HaYeled Preschool at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. He didn’t believe working at Target was a career path, so Ana put him on the waitlist to become an assistant teacher at the Gan.
Former Gan Director Shelley Remer offered de los Reyes his first job in childcare as a substitute teacher, making him the only male teacher at the preschool.
“When I was younger, around 13…I had some sort of early education experience working at preschools and in high school when I took child development classes,” said de los Reyes. “It’s kind of been prevalent in what I’ve always done so it came natural to me…. [But] it was completely something I never expected I would do. It was something that had just fallen into my lap.”
Remer paid for him to take a 90-hour training course to get approved to teach and he became a full-time preschool teacher at Gan HaYeled.
He worked at the preschool for six years before leaving to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in game art and design at the Art Institute of Washington in Arlington, Va. Daniel struggled to pay tuition, forcing him to go back to work at Gan Hayeled.
After his dream of a higher-paying career fell through, Daniel returned to his home at the Gan because of the influence he could have on young lives, he says.
“I see a lot of my friends making this great money and doing all of these things, but teachers, we don’t get paid good money,” Daniel said. “But I feel what I’m doing is one hundred percent benefitting the way these kids are growing up.”
De los Reyes is part of the two percent of American males who work as preschool or kindergarten teachers, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Christy Corbin, director of the College of Education at the University of Maryland, says the low wages of the position dictate why so few males are hired into childcare positions.
“[Our graduates] certainly are eligible and qualified to teach in a childcare center,” Corbin said, “But the salaries are considerably lower in a childcare center or in a preschool program.”
Most of the students enrolled in the school of education at the University of Maryland obtain jobs in public schools, teaching at the middle or high school level because of the higher paying salaries, Corbin says. The university’s School of Education gives students the ability to earn a degree in early childhood education, but not a single male student is currently in that program.
Nationwide, a childcare employee earns an annual average of $19,980 while high school teachers earn $58,240 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Maryland, the average salary for a childcare provider is $24,110, according to the Maryland Family Network, a statewide network for child care service centers. High school teachers in the state of Maryland earn on average $63,960, according to Teacher Portal, a website operated by QuinStreet, Inc., a publicly traded corporation.
Sheri Brown, director of Gan Hayeled Preschool, agrees with Corbin. She says de los Reyes has been one of her best teachers since her tenure began three years ago so she has tried to hire more teachers like him, without success.
“We would love to get more male applicants,” Brown said, but acknowledged the low pay deters many men and women from the field.
“Unfortunately there is a stigma associated with being a male and wanting to work with young children,” UMD's Corbin said. “The perception is that…it is not challenging and the content isn’t as deep [as in higher levels of schooling], which of course, is not true.”
Brown says traditionally people think education is a field for women, scaring most males away from the position.
“There is a thought in some parts of the country that if males are working with children, there’s something weird about them,” Brown said. “I don’t think that’s true. Our [program] loves whatever diversity we can provide.”
De los Reyes, who has worked at the Gan for nine years, still lives at home with his parents. He runs a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics (STEAM) program for children who stay in the afternoon.
He incorporates the program’s five different areas of study into his lesson plans to tap into children's interests and relate their projects to daily life.
“The way I teach kids gives them the experience and the tools to make their own decisions, think on their own and empower them,” said de los Reyes. “Especially at such an early age, it’s important to them. They need that foothold in the ground so that they can take off in their later years.”
Brown says she is lucky to have de los Reyes at Gan HaYeled; she notices that parents appreciate having a male on staff as well.
“Parents don’t think about it so much before, but afterward…I have parents say, ‘It’s so great my child has a male in their classroom,’” Brown said. “They realize [he provides] another point of view.”