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Why I Chose a Career in Early Childhood

Early childhood education is critical for children’s growth. Impassioned educators can make all the difference for young minds.

For over 40 years, since I first chose a career in early childhood, I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the unique stage of life that is early childhood.

The work has changed in some ways of course, but it matters more than ever today. As pressures and strain on families increase daily due to an ever-changing societal landscape, we need more people who love infants and toddlers to join the field. Many families are struggling to provide the stability, nurturance and affirmation that young children need to develop in a socially and emotionally healthy manner. We are tasked with providing the support, education, encouragement and compassion they require. 

This work wasn’t always my plan. In fact, becoming a preschool teacher was an unusual career path for men four decades ago. I landed in a career in early childhood through an unusual set of circumstances. In retrospect, it feels like kismet. After my sophomore year of college, my father, the pastor of our church, asked me if I would teach the summer preschool Sunday School class. At that point, no one had stepped forward to do so. I agreed, and in doing so discovered a natural mutual affinity between those children and myself. That Sunday changed the trajectory of my entire life. 

Making a Shift

The following year I transferred to the University of Maryland to pursue my bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education. Upon graduation, it took me several years to find a program that would hire a man to teach these youngest of children. There seemed to be a bias that men should seek more financially lucrative positions. When I couldn’t find a position, I worked in a factory. Not exactly as inspiring for me as my dream of molding young minds. Eventually, I managed to find a role as a 4th-grade teacher. 

That was good, worthy work and I loved the kids. It wasn’t my passion though. Thinking back to that first unexpected Sunday where I was plopped down with a group of preschoolers and fell in love with their unique developmental stage, I knew I couldn’t stay in elementary school. I still felt unfulfilled. 

I didn’t want to give up on my dream of a career in early childhood. Certainly at some point, someone would be willing to hire a man who had a passion for educating youngsters. 

Midway through my second year as a teacher, I applied for a Head Start position. Finally, I got a call back. That role was everything I hoped a career in early childhood would be — exciting, nonstop, and invigorating. 

There is nothing quite as exhausting as a group of toddlers, but there is also nothing quite as satisfying as helping those early synapses form. It’s a chance to play a role in the most critical years of a child’s life.

See how early childhood educators make the most of everyday moments.
What started as a happenstance career path evolved into leading a statewide organization. Above all, it is John’s passion for young minds that drives him in the early childhood education field and he's honored to instill that passion into the next generation of early childhood professionals.

Embarking on a Journey

I derived immense satisfaction from the opportunity for creative expression in teaching and the loving relationships those young ones so freely offered. I felt that working with very young children, especially those who had absent, sporadic, or disengaged fathers, was important during these early years as a sense of self is in its developing stages. Respecting, encouraging, and valuing these children provided the profound opportunity to bend their lives toward confidence and competence. I think I played a small role in helping them learn to value themselves, even after they left my classroom.

That drive led me to eventually further my education. While college was amazing, it had some gaps. For example, none of my undergraduate classes adequately prepared me for the challenging behaviors I encountered nor for understanding the true effects that poverty and lack of resources can have on families and therefore children. My graduate program, a master in Child Development and Family Relations from Oklahoma State, filled in many of those gaps.

Respecting, encouraging, and valuing these children provided the profound opportunity to bend their lives toward confidence and competence. I think I played a small role in helping them learn to value themselves, even after they left my classroom.

A Lifelong Passion

My graduate work led me from Early Childhood Education to Early Childhood Mental Health. I became a child therapist specializing in  young children. As I matured in the field, I became a supervisor, a consultant and an advocate for services for the very young.  I served on many state committees addressing the needs of children and families and eventually  accepted a role as the first president of AIMHiOhio, which is the Association for Infant Mental Health in Ohio. In addition, I’ve always had the support of Zero to Three. They’ve been a reliable, consistent source of support, resources, and inspiration. 

I’ve retired from some portions of my work as I move on to the next phase of my life, but I am still invigorated by the supervision I do with current infant and early childhood mental health professionals. This is particularly exciting because I get to support newer practitioners in the same field I’ve loved for four decades. I know this work matters as much as it did that first Sunday morning that sparked my career — perhaps even more so than ever. I’ll end with a quote from one of the mothers of Infant Mental Health that I’ve always been inspired by, Jeree Pawl, “Who you are is as important as what you do.”

Interested in sharing your journey as an early childhood professional with our audience? Get in touch! We’d love to feature you.

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