by Dr. Jill Klefstad - University of Wisconsin - Stout

A retired friend and colleague came to speak to a group of early childhood pre-service students about strategies that engage young children in their learning. The heart of the presentation centered around one question, “What is your icon?” This teacher was challenging these pre-service students to think about ingenious or novel strategies that they could incorporate in their teaching that would engage children. She posed the thought that perhaps their own icon or trademark could be something they would be known for and definitely something that would make them unique. Teachers acknowledge the fact that they are in competition with the fast paced and technological world and need something that will engage students in their learning. The key to choosing the right icon is that it must be an integral part of who the teacher is.

In my position as a supervisor of student teachers, I have had the privilege of being a guest in many early childhood educators’ classrooms, and thus, have witnessed a number of icons used to engage young children. Some include puppets, drama, story telling, musical instruments, humor and teaching aprons. I continue to encourage pre-service teachers to begin to think about what their icon could be. For some of the women in early childhood education, this is an easy challenge because they are comfortable with aprons, drama, and puppets; however, for the males in the program this task takes on a deeper meaning as they confront the stereotypes associated with some trademarks.

Reflecting upon how to foster this icon idea in male early childhood students, I am struck by this thought – could the male teacher of young children be considered the icon or trademark? Certainly male ECE teachers are a novelty if one compares the number of males to females in early childhood education. According to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2013, only 2.3 percent of the country’s preschool/kindergarten teachers were male. In fact, could male teachers be considered a minority in relation to serving the early childhood profession?

Society’s perception of traditional gender roles continues to perpetuate the stereotypes regarding male teachers of young children resulting in low numbers of young men choosing this profession. Despite efforts to increase awareness on the value for children to be taught by male teachers, perhaps the attention could focus specifically around the icon the male teachers brings to the classroom just by their presence.

In 1989, Derman-Sparks introduced Anti-bias curriculum: Tools for empowering young children that has resulted in a more concerted effort to teach a more culturally inclusive curriculum for young children. Teachers integrate anti-bias curriculum within their teaching practices because they believe there is value for children to be introduced to other perspectives. Culturally sensitive teachers are mindful of their position as role models for young children and recognize that everything they do is indicative of how they see the world and how they feel about others. The methods and activities they choose to teach through implicit and explicit communication assist young children to recognize and accept similarities and differences (Derman-Sparks, 1989).

Implicit communication is evident in how teachers define groups in their classroom, the name given to their classrooms, how their room is arranged, the music they chose, the interaction with the children, and ways to resolve conflict. Explicit communication can be defined as the activities and themes planned for children including the books and artifacts, toys and games, and style of delivery (Levy, n.d.). From a female’s perspective, as I think about the icon of men in ECE it is easy to see that the very essence of the male presence in a classroom can be considered a trademark or icon. While it may be a novelty to have a male teacher of young children, it is important to develop pre-service students’ awareness about the power of using implicit and explicit communication to develop young children’s awareness about cultural education.

Perhaps this can become the foundation of every teacher’s icon.


Derman-Sparks, L. and the A.B.C. Task Force (1989). Anti-bias curriculum: Tools for    empowering young children. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Levy, A. (n.d.) Culture in the classroom. Earlychildhood News. Retrieved from: