Sometimes When You're A Hollywood Nightclub Promoter You Give It All Up To Go Teach The Babies

A boy plays in a childcare center. (John Moore/Getty Images)

It's not uncommon to read a story about women beating the odds and breaking into male-dominated fields. What you hear less about is men figuring out how they fit into jobs that have traditionally been held by women.

Take preschools and child care environments.

When men want to step into the profession of early childhood care and education — which is extremely low-paying, and dominated by women of color — it can raise eyebrows.

But guess what? Men can also do this vital work.

"I'm here for the same reasons everybody else is," said Robert Boyman, executive director for Pacific Oaks Children's School. "I want to do right by the children and make sure that we're laying a healthy foundation so that they become successful adults."

But just because men can do this work doesn't mean they are doing this work. A recent conference ABOUT THIS VERY SUBJECT drew more than 100 attendees — and the great majority were women.

"We're going to get people accustomed to it," said Billy Truong, a former Hollywood nightclub promoter turned child development professor at East Los Angeles College. "And then next thing you know, it's going to be a social norm."

Truong, who organized that recent conference, said, "It just takes a few people to start the movement."

There's an overall lack of data on the early education workforce — caregivers and teachers in charge of kids five and under — but it's estimated that men make up just 2 to 3 percent nationally.

Their work is crucial with far-reaching implications — brains are being built under their watch. There are one million neural connections made every single second of life up until the age of three. The people who care for and educate children in these formative years are programming the next generation. They are not babysitters.

In L.A. and across the state, some of these unicorns are trying to build a more robust community for men in the field — speaking up about their love for the job, the stigma they face, and the importance of male role models for young children.

Here's what they told us about their journeys:

Billy Truong has started organizing conferences to bring men in early childhood professions together. (Priska Neely/LAist)

BILLY TRUONG
• Adjunct professor in child development at East Los Angeles College
• 8 years in the field

Why he entered the field

I had no intention whatsoever to be in this field. I had a great job, had a great career actually — my income was more than I can spend. I was working at a Hollywood nightclub as a promoter. Eight years ago, my sister called me up one day asking if I can keep an eye on the twins while she goes out to run some errands. I had no experience whatsoever with infants. When I saw the (child care) directions, I was shocked at how much details there were. And I was curious, I was really curious about the mindset of infants. And so I came to East LA College and just took a child development class.

Why he loves it

I've heard students all the time saying, 'That $150 calculator that I bought for calculus or statistics — I never touched it after I passed that class.' I can say everything that I learned in child development, I utilized at least once or twice in the first year that I learned it, and it was wonderful.

His message to other men

It's a stigma, it's a stereotype, it's a mindset, it's the way we are raised. And if we can start now, breaking down that stigma, breaking down the stereotype — and not just by talking about it, not just by educating them but showing them — sooner or later, we're going to get people accustomed to it. And then next thing you know, it's going to be a social norm. Unfortunately, it's not right now. But it just takes a few people to start the movement.

Greg Uba is one of the champions of bringing men into the field. (Priska Neely/LAist)

GREGORY UBA
• Works in a family child care home in Sacramento
• 35 years in the field

Why he loves it

I'm old now, I'm 60. But I don't feel old. The children keep you young, you have to stay active, you have to chase them around and it keeps you joyful because children are joyful. We kind of lose that as grown-ups.

Challenges in the field

Lots of people talk about the low pay of preschool teachers and early childhood educators. But the social stigma, I think, is even harder for men entering the field. There are plenty of women that have been the breadwinners for their family, and they've done it. If you want to do it, you'll find a way to do it. But the way that some parents look at them, 'Well, I don't want him changing my kid's diaper, or I don't want him supervising my daughter in the bathroom,' that becomes a little bit oppressive.

Pushing past the stigma

About 10 years ago, we started a Facebook group for men in child care. And now we have, we have people from all over the world. And putting on conferences so that guys start connecting, so that they don't feel like they're the only one doing this.

Why he hopes more men enter the field

One of the things is the idea that men can be nurturers. Little boys, if they see men in their lives, it gives a message that school's not just something you have to go, you belong there, because there are guys here overseeing that I'm okay. It's healthy for the little girls. This person is going to be outside-of-the-family male role model. And he cares about me. And he's nurturing. That's how a man's supposed to be.

Robert Boyman has been in the field for 20 years. (Priska Neely/LAist)

ROBERT BOYMAN
• Executive director for Pacific Oaks Children's School and adjunct professor at Pacific Oaks College
• 20 years in field

Why he entered the field

I wasn't planning on going into early childhood education, but my mother just passed away and I knew this gentleman by the name of Ralph, who was the executive director for the Latin American Civic Association. And I remember it was May and he said, 'Why don't you come work in the classroom for a month? Because then it would be summer break and see if you like it.'

And after day one, I knew this was what I wanted to do forever. I just remember getting in the car at the end of that day going, 'That was amazing.' I think it was a sense of fulfillment that I'd never knew I could have to be honest.

Challenges of being a unicorn

There's already this stigma because men aren't supposed to want to work with young children. There's just something odd when that happens. And so overcoming that and being able to say, 'I'm here for the same reasons everybody else is. I want to do right by the children and make sure that we're laying a healthy foundation so that they become successful adults.'

Pushing past the stigma

I really work on building authentic relationships with parents, children and teachers, so that they know who I am. And that's a big component to being able to overcome those barriers. Because once people know you, then they're like, 'Okay, I get it. You are here for the right reasons. You're here for the same reasons I am.' And you know, when parents see their children blossom and flourish and grow, they're like, 'Oh, I get it.'

Advice for other men

Don't give up. Understand that things will get difficult at times, but you gotta persevere because you're here for a reason. Children need more strong male role models in their lives. And being in a classroom, especially ages 3 to 5, is extremely important.

Edwin Cruz thought he wanted to be a nurse until he took a child development class. (Priska Neely/LAist)

EDWIN CRUZ
• Kindergarten teacher at East LA College Child Development Center
• 6 years in field

How he got into the field

Originally, I wanted to do nursing. I wanted to be a pediatric nurse and I wanted to work with children in the health environment. But then I took a child development course where it provided creative activities for young children. And then I ended up loving that. So I ended up switching from nursing to early childhood education.

Why he loves it

I learn with the children. They keep me on my toes. They ask me random questions. I have to deviate from saying, "I don't really know." You open that conversation: "That's a good question. Let's go to the library. Let's find out."

What he wants other men to know

A lot of times, when it comes to education and teaching young children, it's considered a babysitting job. It's not a babysitting career. It's teaching, educating the next generation that are gonna be the doctors and scientists and lawyers.

Adan Hernandez is used to the only man in a classroom. (Priska Neely/LAist)

ADEN HERNANDEZ
• Teachers' assistant for preschool, Los Angeles Unified School District
• 5 years in the field

How he got into it

I dropped out of Cal State Fullerton my first year and I didn't know what to do. So one of my friends actually was a substitute teachers' assistant for preschool at LAUSD and she just recommended (it) to me. That's how I got started. I just fell in love with it.

What keeps men out of the field

I was a substitute teacher's assistant for four or five months and I only saw one [other man] and I worked in 10 different centers. Having that stigma that we're going to, like, sexually abuse a child — I think that's one of the main (reasons) that a lot of males won't do it. Having that, and it's considered a feminine job.

I don't really let it bug me. I actually had one instance where one of the grandparents [asked] me if I go inside the restrooms with the children. And she didn't ask my female co-worker that. So that kind of bugged me. But I was like, 'No, I don't. The children are potty-trained. I just give them soap and that's it.'

Why men should consider it

Just try it. It's like any other profession, you might not like it, it may not be for you and it might be. You just never know. Maybe they want to be parents later on, this will help a lot.

A version of this story also ran on the radio. Listen here.