Derrick Vestal doesn’t mind being the only male in his Early Childhood Education classes at Cleveland State. In fact, he could not be more certain he made the right decision on his choice of a major.

The Niota native said he has known since he was in seventh grade that he wanted to be a teacher, although he just recently made up his mind that he was not interested in teaching older students. “I thought about teaching high school, but I changed my mind. I think younger kids just seem more eager to learn and in my opinion, they are more fun, too.”

Mr. Vestal said he prefers to teach pre-K. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 97 percent of teachers in pre-K programs are women, and only 13 percent of elementary school teachers are men and these men mostly teach in fifth and sixth grades.

Mr. Vestal said, “Pre-K is a child’s first experience at school and I want to be able to make a difference in their lives. There are a lot of single parents now and some of the children may not see their dads as often as they should and some of them may not have that many men in their lives; I think that I could help with that. I want to make it a comfortable setting for the children.”

Suzanne Appling Wood, CSCC Associate Professor/Coordinator of Early Childhood Education, said, “We would like to have more males in early childhood because children need positive male role models, especially when so many children come from female headed households. It also adds another perspective when you have male students in class. Derrick adds a special dimension to the classroom and will make an excellent teacher because of the caring and compassion that he has for children and adults. We may never have as many males as females in early childhood, but they will never find a more rewarding career than working with young children!”

Mr. Vestal said, “I’ve had a lot of good teachers along the way, but when I was young, the people I really looked up to were my elementary school teachers. I think if children have someone to look up to, then they will grow up to be responsible adults and better citizens.”

Two particular teachers that he credits as being some of his role models at a young age are Donna Cagle, his third grade teacher and Harry Newman, his sixth grade Math teacher at Niota Elementary.

“Mrs. Cagle made everything fun. She broke her leg one day during class showing us what verbs were! She said ‘KICK,’ kicked the trash can, slipped on a piece of paper and broke her leg! Mr. Newman made math, which is my least favorite subject to this day, interesting. He made it where it wasn’t so definite; it was never simply right or wrong. He would explain everything to you and walk you through the process of elimination until you understood it better and were able to get it.”

Wendy Davis, CSCC Early Childhood Education instructor, said, “Derrick has been so much fun to have in class. He brings a different, yet enlightening perspective to the field of early childhood education. He is very passionate about working with children and it comes across in his work. I expect great things from him in the future!”

Mr. Vestal said all of his family and friends are very supportive of his choice to be an early childhood education teacher. “My parents (Billy and Mary Vestal) are all for it! My dad used to work for Mayfield’s until he was in a wreck and wasn’t able to work anymore, so he definitely knows what it’s like to do hard physical labor for a living and neither of my parents want me to have to do that.”

Mr. Vestal himself also knows what it’s like to do hard physical labor. “I’ve worked in factories and that is not for me,” he said. “The factory that I worked in moved to the Dominican Republic, so now, I am on TRA, which is amazing because I get to go to school and they pay for it and that has helped out so much. I am the first member of my family to go to college and I’ll be the first to graduate college.”

He said he does wish more men would get involved in the early childhood education field. “Some guys get a little embarrassed about it and I think many of them are timid because it has been a woman’s field for so long. You don’t see that many male early childhood teachers, but I think the more you have in the younger grades, the better off it will be as these children get older because they need to learn to respect both men and women.”

According to Mr. Vestal, although he wants to teach younger kids, he also enjoys coaching older kids-that way, he has the best of both worlds. He has served as the coach for the Riceville Wildcats Junior Team for the past five years and this past summer coached the Clearwater Tribe baseball travel team. Vestal said he has always had a love of sports.

“I’ve played some kind of sport since I was three years old. I played football at McMinn and had even signed to play football for Maryville College, but changed my mind two weeks before school started. I just decided I didn’t want to play anymore but I still really enjoy coaching. Athens is a small town, but there is still a lot of trouble for these kids to get in and I figure if you give 14 or 15 kids something to do at least three nights a week, that’s a good thing. We have a lot of fun and it gives these kids something to look forward to during the summer and it helps keep them out of trouble.”

Mr. Vestal said, “Coaching is very rewarding. The kids I coached my first year are seniors in high school this year and pretty soon, they will be going off to college. As long as they do what they are supposed to do and keep their heads on straight, they are going to do just fine. That’s why I don’t do stuff that is irresponsible because I know these kids are looking up to me. I have plenty of opportunities to go out partying, but I just don’t because that’s not me; I know these kids could see me out doing that and I don’t want them to think that’s okay.”

When he isn’t at school or coaching, Vestal said he enjoys spending time with his fiancée, Chynna, as well as friends, and family. He is the brother to Conner, 17, Olivia, 18, and Maurice, 23. A huge Gator fan, he enjoys watching the University of Florida play football and basketball. He plans to transfer to TWC after CSCC and hopes to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in May of 2010.

“In the end, you just need to do what you want to do,” said Mr. Vestal. “You can’t be influenced by others; you have to do what makes you happy and this is what makes me happy.”

For more information on Cleveland State Community College, call 423 614-8734 or 800 604-CSCC. For more information on the CSCC Early Childhood Education program, contact Suzanne Appling Wood at 423 472-7141, ext. 282.