As I enter my final semester of the Elementary Education MAT program at NC State University, I have found myself reflecting upon my experience and seeking to understand my journey as a man entering the field of EE. I think back to the beginning – to when I was first deciding if teaching was right for me – to when I read this article that ultimately pushed me to go for it.
You see, I come from a long line of social activists and educators – my father, Dr. Jack McKinney, was a prominent figure in the fight for LGBTQ equality in North Carolina and my sister, mother, and grandmother have all taught at the elementary and middle school levels. I knew I wanted a career in which I would feel, every day, that I was making a difference in the lives of those that needed it most and I am cognizant/appreciative of the role my upbringing played in that desire. I landed on Elementary Education because of my belief in the ability of education to bring about socio-economic equity and its power to change lives, generations, and communities as a whole.
As I started taking classes at NCSU, I couldn’t help but look around and ask myself – where are all the men? I knew that the field was inhabited by mostly females, but the gender ratios I observed in my courses were eye-opening and concerning. During the summer after my first semester, I was fortunate to land a position as a third grade co-teacher at a local nonprofit’s summer camp. It was at this camp that I saw for the first time how race, gender, and poverty can come into play in the classroom. As the only white person in the room, I had to tackle my own whiteness in order to reach my students and as a man, I saw how the boys in the classroom (and camp in general) opened up to me in ways they didn’t with my female counterpart. The poverty that I observed led me to question how I was to expect my students to be fully engaged academically if their basic human needs weren’t being met. These dynamics inherently shaped my beliefs towards the importance of race, gender, and poverty within the classroom and led me to question the role in which these dynamics were playing in regards to the opportunity gaps we see within our education system today. Furthermore, it showed me that I had the ability to teach, care for, and ultimately come to love and make a difference in these children’s lives. Men have the ability to do all of these things and most people want children to have loving men involved in their lives and recognize the value of such involvement (Nelson, 2006). It’s imperative that we, as a society, work to topple the stereotypes, fears, and financial barriers that prevent men, especially men of color, from entering the field of Elementary and Early Childhood Education. It’s imperative so that every student – regardless of race, gender, or socio-economic status – has a chance at an equitable life and education.
So, as I enter my final semester of the program – I’m thankful to be in this field and for the chance to work with children. To quote the legendary Mr. Fred Rodgers, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
To any man who sees the need and wants to respond, know that you are welcome.