By Brandon Belmore - UW Stout - Wisconsin

Not very long ago, I was a 17-year-old teenager with no idea what I wanted to do after high school. I did not like school growing up, but I attended school so I could see my friends and of course because my parents were sending me out the door.

I grew up in a very small town and was very close to all of my friends and teachers. I felt like I was the most normal kid growing up. It seemed like I was a friend to almost everyone, participated in every sport I could and had a hobby for every day of the week. While growing up many people told me I would be a great teacher and that I should choose a career working with children. This idea was always in the back of my mind and it seemed like the most interesting career path at the time. Being given the opportunity to write this reflective article has solidified that I did choose the right career path and I am about to become a male early childhood teacher!

The Start Beginning
At this point in my life I feel that I can admit that I always wanted to be a teacher, however I was scared to pursue this for a couple reasons. First, I did not think anybody would find this profession sexy, and secondly I was uncertain I would make enough money to pay for the costly items I wanted at the time such as motorcycles, boats and other big toys. Mostly though, I did not want to leave the little town that friends and family called home. Consequently, I chose to do what I was comfortable with and chose to stay in my hometown and attend the technical college.
Thinking back, I will be the first to admit that I was at the crossroads in my life. I was feeling the pressure to choose between staying in the basement of my parent’s home or begin living the life I was destined to live. After a year of attending the technical college I felt a need to do bigger and better things and chose to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Although I liked the campus, I still hesitated to enroll in teacher education. Instead, I chose to major in Health, Wellness and Fitness because this program would allow me to teach fitness to children. However, I soon found myself at another crossroad because this program was not exactly what I had hoped it would be.

Courage to Follow my Passion
During my third year of college I found the courage to do what I genuinely wanted to do. I met with Dr. Jill Klefstad, Early Childhood Education Program Director, and told her I was planning on enrolling in the program. She shared with me that there were only six other males in the ECE program. My first thought was to “run as fast as I could” but I chose to stay in the program because I recognized that this was what I truly wanted to do and recognized that nothing or anyone would convince me otherwise.

Although I was nervous, there was an eagerness to begin, that is, until I attended my first Early Childhood education class that had 22 girls and one male student, me. The whole situation was beyond awkward and for the first time in my life I wondered if this is what it felt like for minority students. Each ECE class had the same make-up of students, one or two guys and 25 girls. Although I thoroughly enjoyed what I was learning about young children and the curriculum, I still felt out of place and awkward.

Being the Awkward Classmate; Living Two Lives
It never occurred to me to change my major again because I was eager and satisfied with my choice but I have to admit that the favorite part of my day was when the last class was over. So many times it felt as though I was living two different lives. After class, I would spend time with my friends, meet new people, relax on the weekends and I did feel like a normal college student. I was enjoying my life and felt like I had things figured out. However, during class time it felt like I was someone completely different. I was the guy alone in the corner trying hard not to draw attention to myself. I felt like I stuck out and sometimes I think everyone else felt that too. Although I was never treated unfairly or picked on, it seemed as if everyone stared and judged me. And, the instructors/professors ALWAYS called on me, the male student, for the answer. Although I feel that their intention was to include me in class, I felt inferior talking about what I knew about babies surrounded by women who were ECE majors.

Turning the Corner
Just last year, everything changed for me one day. Dr. Jill offered me an opportunity to be her teacher assistant in the Intro to Early Childhood Education course. For the first time since I began college I felt affirmed and acknowledged for being a male ECE student. In this position I was able to connect with new students, especially the males because of my own personal journey. Many opportunities were given to me that enhanced my leadership abilities, which in turn built my confidence.
One of my responsibilities included assisting in the development of the new organization at UW-Stout called Men in Education (M.E.N). I knew the club existed but I had not attended any of the first meetings because I did not know anyone else in the program. The night I decided to attend a meeting I realized I was fighting the same fears I felt before each ECE class. I wondered if everyone would know each other and if I would again be the weird guy in the corner. The meeting was nothing like I had anticipated! There were about twelve ECE men in the group but everyone was quiet and hesitant to talk because none of us knew each other very well. Deep down I felt relieved and certain that I found where I belonged. All twelve of us were in the same boat and we related very well to one another. Even though we were a small group of individuals who recognized our differences and similarities and that we all shared the goal of becoming an ECE teacher.

Benefits of a Men’s Group
Reflecting on the semester of being involved in M.E.N. I have built close friendships, and become part of a larger support system that will help me achieve my goal of becoming an ECE teacher. I am proud to say that the Early Childhood Education program has tripled the number of men in the ECE program! Many of the members have also become more active on campus and in the community. We have monthly meetings where we discuss goals for the organization and discuss the realities of being a male in ECE. We have collaborated with other local organizations and strive to increase and retain the number of males in the field of ECE. Some of the activities we have accomplished have included a mentor program between ECE student and teaching partners in the field. Each of us was given the name and contact information of a current teacher to gain advice and insight from. My mentor, Joe Lawrence of Little Sprouts Academy in Menomonie, WI has also provided me with experiences to assist in his center allowing me to gain a realistic view of what it is like being a teacher.

For the first time in my life I am one hundred percent certain and content with my personal and educational choices. I feel like I truly belong in this profession and I believe my teaching goals and skills have been refined because of these experiences. It has been a long crazy road to get to where I am right now but I would not change a thing. I am proud of my journey and look forward to the years ahead as an early childhood educator. I intend to continue reaching out to other males who are considering this profession and share my story. I believe with the right people and the right balance of men and women teaching in early childhood education, we can continue to develop Wisconsin schools in the right direction because we put children first.