Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Second Grade Teacher Sean Mullen by Mike Prochaska

Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Second Grade Teacher Sean Mullen

Sean Mullen lives in Seneca Falls, N.Y., the birthplace of women’s right. He teaches second grade at Frank Knight Elementary School. Read on to learn more about Sean...

Q. What are the advantages of being a man in Early Childhood Education? What do men bring to classroom?

“There are many advantages to being a man in early childhood education, but I feel that women have similar advantages. For many, kindergarten or first grade students (especially those without a consistent male role model), they seek a connection with me – as fleeting as the connection could be (like a smile or a wave in the hallway). Delivering an instant compliment creates happiness in their world, and their happiness creates the same in mine!

“As the only male classroom teacher in my building, students often enjoy talking to me about that very fact! Being able to alter perceived traditional gender roles (by simply existing in the capacity I do) is an advantage male educators have.

“Another advantage – we also have an opportunity to demonstrate how men should treat women in today’s society. Having positive, friendly, respectful and professional relationships that openly and genuinely demonstrate equality with our female colleagues will undoubtedly influence young men to create similar relationships with the women in their lives. These professional relationships will also help young women form the same positive, friendly, respectful, equal and respectful expectations for their current and future relationships with men. 

“Depending on one’s teaching style, men (or any teacher, really) can bring a different kind of energy to a classroom setting. Being a kid at heart helps! Effectively channeling that happiness in a productive, educational way can make a classroom be a fun place to learn. Students in early childhood don’t usually have much exposure to men in this field, so showing students – especially the ‘all boy’ boys – that it’s OK to have fun in an educational setting can instantly encourage their curiosity, engagement and empowerment.” 

Q. Why is play important for children?

“Play is the BEST way children can learn! In my experience, the earlier in the day young children can get up, move and interact freely; the healthier their social-emotional state will be throughout the day. Play empowers children to create their own experiences. Play helps children form their identity. Play is a NECESSITY for children! Get outside! Discover! Move! Connect! Make friends! Solve problems! Learn! Have FUN!”

Q. What about outside play. Is it important?

“Playing inside is all fine and good, but playing outside connects children with the world! Every adult in the world can tell you a story about discovering nature as a child. Whether it was picking flowers, seeing a caterpillar or watching bubbles blow away in the wind; our connections and curiosity with nature began instantly. Children need these experiences to feel included in the world, and early childhood educators can use these experiences to impact growth across the three domains.” 

Q. What is your favorite memory working with kids?

“My favorite memory actually happened yesterday! My classroom got an ‘Elf On a Shelf’ three weeks early, and when my students came back from P.E. class they SHRIEKED with joy! Their pure excitement and happiness put a big perma-smile on my face. I heard from many parents about how brave I was to accept an elf so early, but it has proven to be a creative touch to an excellent class. Their writer’s voices are shining more than ever in their opinion pieces!”

Q. What is your favorite book to read to the classroom?

“’One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish’ by Dr. Seuss. I grew up north of the border, so I speak some Québécois French. I have the French version of the book to match the English version. As I read a page in French, one of my students reads the same page in English. We go back and forth until we’ve read the whole book and every student has read to the class!” 

Q. What are your favorite activities to do with your kids? 

“There are too many to count. I like to infuse lots of engaging tidbits into my classroom. If we’re waiting in the hallway to go to a special, we play a quiet game of Simon Says. Sometimes I’ll play my guitar and sing a lesson to my students. If a student asks me, ‘Hey Mr. Mullen, guess what?’ I’ll make a series of silly guesses like, ‘NASA called you to fix the ISS, so you’ll be out tomorrow’ or ‘The Penguins need you to be Sidney Crosby’s winger tonight, so score a goal for me!’ I make funny faces to remind students about classroom guidelines (instead of verbal prompts) and do a chicken dance during math class – just ‘cause. Frankly, I just try to have as much fun teaching as possible!” 

Q. Anything inspiring to tell anyone thinking of going into this field?

“You will never find a more rewarding vocation than teaching children. As the saying goes, ‘You have the ability to change the world one child at a time.’ Think of it this way: many people reflect on their worldly legacy at the end of their life. As a teacher, no reflection is needed. An educator’s legacy lives in every child the educator has influenced. Want proof? Watch ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus.’ 

“If helping children become their best gives you joy, a career in early childhood education is the vocation for you. Be patient, caring, adaptable, coachable and AWESOME.”

Q. Anything else you would like to share?

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help, encouragement and guidance from the women in my life. First and foremost is my wife, who saw the kind of educator I could be and lovingly supported my ECE career change. The women I student-taught under shaped my initial teaching style and continue to influence me today.

“My second grade team members are strong, insightful, passionate women who have helped me see more than two answers to every issue. My principal has led me to her vision for the school through impactful professional development and immediately successful recommendations. The other women throughout my school have had my back since day one, kindly supporting me (and other men) in the ECE field. You won’t find a better professional ‘family’ than in a school!”

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