Alumni Outlook Magazine


Following SMALL FOOTSTEPS

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Student teacher Ian Billings helps toddlers on the playground at the UW-Stout Child and Family Study Center. He graduated this spring in the UW-Stout early childhood education program and plans to teach elementary school.

Ian Billings noticed two children on the playground who were not getting along. He rushed over to them. At 6-foot-1, he towered over the 1½-year-olds but dropped to his knees and gently separated them while adding a few kind words of instruction.

A little later, he watched over a group of children as they climbed on playground equipment, he tied a child’s shoe and then took two smiling boys for a ride on a wagon.

Billings was in control and at ease working with young children at the UW-Stout Child and Family Study Center. The scenes conjured up images of muscular lead actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990 movie “Kindergarten Cop.”

He spent eight weeks at the center’s Infant and Toddler Lab this spring as a student teacher while finishing his coursework. He graduated in May with a degree in early childhood education.

Come fall he hopes to be teaching children full time in elementary school.

As he searches for a job, his gender certainly can’t hurt his prospects. Male teachers in early childhood education still aren’t the norm. According to 2011-12 National Education Association statistics, just 16.2 percent of elementary school teachers in the U.S. are men; in Wisconsin it’s 21.5 percent. Early childhood education has been a female-dominated profession for generations.

“Young children need positive male role models in their lives while in school, beginning in preschool programs,” said Jill Klefstad, an associate professor in the School of Education at UW-Stout and the early childhood education program director. “The early years are critical in the development of young children, and they benefit from being taught by male teachers.”

Billings, who grew up in Loyal, said he never had a male teacher until he reached middle school.

He had some special female teachers to model after, however. His mother is a fifth-grade teacher in Loyal and his grandmother and an aunt also taught elementary school. His older sister and her husband teach at Marshfield Columbus High School.

Teaching seemed to be in his calling even before he enrolled at UW-Stout. When he was a student at Loyal High School, Billings volunteered to help third-graders with science. While on the varsity football team, he enjoyed mentoring younger players, he said.

Billings works on an art project with children.

His cooperating teacher at the Infant and Toddler Lab, Jamie Lynch, was impressed with Billings’ personal and professional skills. “He has a very kind and caring manner. I’ve seen children drawn to him from day one, and the parents love him. His drive takes him a step beyond. He’ll shine,” Lynch said.

Lynch and Klefstad said Billings has a knack for understanding child development; he is able to “adapt lessons appropriate to their needs and abilities,” Klefstad said.

Billings likes early childhood education because he can teach students all subjects, as opposed to having to specialize in one subject at the middle or high school levels. “Kids soak things up. Everything you do is modeling for them,” he added. “I really enjoy the younger age — the energy they bring to school.”

Billings met his fiancée, Gracie Bowen, at UW-Stout. She will graduate in December with a master’s degree in school counseling. “It would be cool to work (with her) in the same school someday,” he said.