by Andrew Gilles - University of Wisconsin - Stout

My name is Andrew Gilles and I am majoring in Early Childhood Education.  In November of 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend and present at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference in Washington D.C. It was an honor to be selected for this opportunity because of my participation and involvement in the university’s organization; UW-Stout Men in Education.  I am currently the Co-President and am responsible for the service-learning project, Thursday’s Table.  UW-Stout’s Men in Education is an organization that serves as a support group for men choosing to go into education.  We recognize that early childhood male teachers are typically the minority and we attempt to celebrate the different experiences men bring to the classroom.

When I began college, I intended to become a special education major but found this major wasn’t a great fit for me. I struggled with deciding what path to take but recognized that the passion I have for working with young children and watching them grow and learn was intriguing to me.  Consequently, I decided to pursue early childhood education and have found it to be exactly what I wanted!  Since I made that decision, I have been fortunate to have strong support from my family and friends in choosing this profession. The love of working with children runs deep within my family because my older brother is a physical education and health teacher, my older sister is a director at a Boys and Girls Club, and my mom works in the schools as a special education assistant. I also have had unique experiences in my courses with professors who are very positive and supportive of my ambition and dream to become a male early childhood teacher.

To be honest, I was nervous about attending the annual convention because I am “just a college student” who has had minimal experience in the classroom and just beginning to uncover the essence of teaching!  While it was slightly overwhelming, I was excited to learn from the variety of presentations and to be surrounded by individuals who are as passionate as I am about early childhood education.

Preparing to head to the conference center the first day was exciting as I had no idea what to expect.  Little did I know that I would see teachers of young children from all over the world who all shared the same passion for educating young children!  First impressions are crucial in any situation, but I remember thinking when I entered the conference hall, “are there only women here?”.  It was eye opening to visually see just how under represented men are in early childhood education.

As an attendee of the conference, I participated in various presentations that included past and present educators talking about strategies and activities that could be used in my future classroom.  One presentation that stood out to me involved ways to incorporate physical activity into lessons throughout the day.  I acquired ideas for engaging activities that I could use in my classroom. My favorite idea was the use of a small balance beam in the classroom strategically placed a couple inches off the ground. I hadn’t realized that something this simple could enhance young children’s balance and walking skills!

One of the main take away pieces for me is understanding how differently women and men interact with children.  As I attended another presentation, sitting at a table with seven women, I realized just how different our experiences with children were.  For example, it has always been easy for me to connect with the boys in the classrooms however the participants discussed how the connections they made the quickest were those with girls.

As for my role as presenter at the conference, there was no denying that I was very nervous to present with my colleagues and peer, but I feel it went very well.  We presented about the dispositions of men in early childhood education. While speaking, I expected to be more nervous than I was in the room filled with about thirty male teachers. As well, many of the comments after the presentation were personally comforting, uplifting, and encouraging.  One statement that stands out to me the most is from a man who said, “continue doing what you are passionate about, even if it goes against the norm”.

It was a privilege to attend this conference and I have frequently reflected on the ideas I will use in my future classroom. For me, bringing a positive attitude to any situation is most important. I do not think that I will ever forget visually seeing how under-represented men are in the early childhood education profession but this in itself has made me even more excited to be in this field.