“Be bold enough to live life on your own terms, and never, ever apologize for it. Go against the grain, refuse to conform, take the road less traveled instead of the well-beaten path. Laugh in the face of adversity, and leap before you look. Dance as though everybody is watching. March to the beat of your own drummer and stubbornly refuse to fit in.” – Mandy Hale
This quote has guided my life and made me the man I have become.
When you are young people always ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I was in first grade, I distinctly remember that cool rainy day in October of 1986, when I was asked that exact question and I responded that I wanted to design cars and I wanted to work with children. The years progressed and after discovering my dislike of math, my desire to be a car designer changed. My love of cars and drawing them still remains to this day and is one of my many passions. My desire and determination to work with kids remained. At the young age of twelve, I became an umpire at the local ball field, helped with CCD classes at my church, and babysat every chance I had. Fast-forward to college in 1998. I attended California University of Pennsylvania. While in college, I worked for a local YMCA as a summer camp counselor and the before and after school programs. I also subbed as a special education teacher’s aide for elementary and middle schools in my hometown when I was home on break. While I learned a lot while working with children, something was missing. Towards the end of college I started to apply at daycare centers, In 2002, I landed my first post graduation job working with school age kids and kindergartners.
While working there, I had a dose of working with toddlers. I found that what all my other jobs were missing was the challenge working with very young children. In April of 2003 I switched jobs and went to another daycare center to take over as the lead toddler teacher. This was a major turning point in my career. I was the full time toddler teacher for four years and in January of 2007 I took over as the director while remaining in the classroom with my kiddos. I enjoyed both roles and each one was fun, challenging and rewarding. I like the balance of office work and being with my kids. I had wonderful kids and staff and we made a lot of memories together.
Since I was a guy in the field, the expectation people had was that I would just defer to the women in the field. They had no idea what I was capable of at the time, neither did I. During my time as director and toddler teacher, I began to make changes to the program and how things were done. I changed the way graduations were done, I decided to do themed graduations. When a child goes through so many changes and learns this much in their first five years on earth, they deserve to have a party to remember. We did everything from Hawaiian, Red Carpet, Fifties Care Cruise, Wild Wild West and Cruise Ship themes. Parents loved it, kids were less nervous singing their graduation songs and it became more of a production with very elaborate decorations and props. To this day I see former students of mine who are now in high school and college and they always comment about remembering their preschool graduation day.
On top of wonderful celebrations, I also added the ability to do community outreach. We had donation drives for the local food banks, homeless shelters, Susan G. Komen Foundation and The American Heart Foundation. We even did a fundraiser to raise awareness for epilepsy awareness. The extra work did not stop there. To help bring in extra money for supplies, parties and events during the summers, we held “Pay What You Want” rummage sales. They were well received by the community and the money always went back to the students. It helped get parents involved and strengthen the little community we had at our center. From September of 2013 until May of 2016, I was moved to another location to help a center that was struggling. I was brought there to bring my unique style of running a center to breathe new life into one that was failing.
My biggest challenge was spending time and resources to get the right mix of staff in that would work well together. I came from a location that took a few years to get the perfect mix in. I went to a location that was not accustomed to having men in the field. On my first day I was pulled into my office and told by a few parents they would be pulling their children because they didn’t believe men should be working with young children. Men should be construction workers, high school teachers and architects. I was told there must be something wrong with me to want to work with young children.
Having somebody who doesn’t know a thing about me or the work I do hurts – a lot! I was very upset after that conversation but I was in a new location, with new people, so I was determined to prove myself…again.
Those people who pulled their children missed out on a ton of great events in my time there. I once again pushed my boundaries. I had to hire and fire a few people to get the right mix of staff, but once I did, we were wildly successful. We did various fundraisers as I did at the previous location, hosted a “Pay What You Want” art show and bake sale. The children worked on special art projects and turned the center into an art gallery. Parents, grandparents, friends and family attended one evening and purchased the kids art work. We had music and a staff member weaving during the event for everyone to watch.
This was beyond successful as we raised hundreds of dollars that went right back to the students. With the money raised we brought in guest speakers from the Carnegie Science Center, bought a year membership from the loan collection at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and updated some of the items in the building. I brought the concept of themed graduations to this location and it went over extremely well despite some skepticism. Our first theme was Nascar and the fun continued from there. Because I had become such a pro at doing graduations I was asked to help the other locations within the company plan and execute their graduations as well. It was a huge honor and I loved every minute of it.
When I came to this location I brought up staff themes for Halloween. At my old site for Halloween my staff and I dressed up as members of Grease, Rock of Love, The who did it from the game of Clue and various others. The parents always looked forward to it. For Thanksgiving I expanded the educational program and the Native American / Pilgrim day reached new heights. With tee-pees, a canoe and more in depth activities the children got a real taste of what it was like for Native Americans and Pilgrims. Our donation drive grew so much that many members of the community were able to be fed with what we raised. My center was featured in various publications with the great work we did.
In the springtime, I started a community garden where the children learned about plants and eating healthy by planting seeds and taking care of them each day. We received many donations and created garden areas for each classroom. I loved this activity so much that I even hosted the “Growing Up Wild” training series at my center where other childcare workers from the surrounding centers could take this course to benefit their own centers. Eating healthy and physical fitness go hand in hand so I brought in an outside soccer program for our children to participate in. They came in once a week and did amazing lessons with the children.
Looking back on all that I accomplished in such a short time at this location I felt that he parents who pulled their kids because I was a guy missed out on a ton of great learning experiences. I’m sure a female director could have done just as great but would she come from the same background with the same experiences? As a guy in the field I spend my life “outside of the box”. Thinking outside of the box is what has made me successful in my career.
I enjoyed my time as a childcare director but as time went by something happened. In the midst of being in a whirlwind of keeping up with classroom and office duties I began to lose who I was as a person and a professional. I was overworked and married to my job. I did not know how to separate home life from work life. After many exhausting weeks I was in need of a change. A friend of mine suggested nannying. I laughed because I always thought of nannies as nothing but babysitters. With nothing to lose, I decided to give nannying a shot and set out to find a nannying job. After a few interviews and offers I was fortunate enough to find a family that was the right fit for me.
May 27 th , 2016 I officially ended what I had spent years building up as a director and on June 6, 2016 I officially became Manny Matt.
The first few weeks of being a many were definitely a learning curve. I went from having 52 children and 12 staff to just me and three children. It was an adjustment. The parents were amazing and helped me throughout the transition to make sure I was comfortable and confident in what I was doing. It also helps that I have three of the greatest kids in the world to care for. Mannying brought a newfound calmness to my life that I had not experienced in years. I found myself again and in finding myself again I was able to rebuild relationships with friends, family and my spouse of eleven years. In the course of the past few months, my kiddos and I have done many outings, We made new friends, my oldest went off to kindergarten, my middle kiddo started preschool and my youngest started walking and talking. They have grown so much! I love every day I get to spend with them.
As my love of being a manny grew, so did my desire to help others pursue finding nanny jobs. Manny Matt & Company LLC started in November of 2016 and our goal is to help match families to nannies and nannies to families. My logo represents my three kiddos that changed my life and their colors represent diversity – male, female, black, white, gay, straight, Christian, atheist – our goal is to break those barriers and look at people as people and not labels. I want to continue to think out of the box. In January of 2017 I will also be starting NAPP – The Nanny Association of Pittsburgh, Pa.
There isn’t much in the way of support groups and connections to workshops in the area so this will be a way for nannies and agency owners to connect, share and educate. I speak with mannies and nannies all over the US and our area lacks this so hopefully we can build a stronger community together.
My desire to work with kids over the years stems from my own childhood. I am one of three – I was the shy and quiet one out of the three of us – I was also the one to beat to my own drum. When I finally came out of my shell I had a lot to say. Working with kids in college helped give me my voice. They were the reason I wanted to keep pursuing my goals. When I entered the field of early childhood education I realized one thing was missing, men. I experienced the discrimination from day one when I started working in daycare. I was not oblivious to the whispers of “only pedophiles want to work with kids” or people point blank asking me “when are you going to get a real job?” to the comments “I’m sorry but we feel women are more nurturing than men but we will give you a chance.” Just because I was a guy I had to work extra hard to prove my abilities.
Some of my toughest critics initially, have turned out to be some of my biggest advocates. As a director I employed four other guys in the course of my time there. We were all so different from each other but we each brought a new perspective to childcare. We learned from each other and from them I learned the recent saying “when they go low you go high”. With each person who doubted my abilities, with each job I got passed up on because I am a guy. I thank you. Because of you I pushed my boundaries and comfort zones to the limits. I defied many people’s expectations, watched hundreds of kids blossom while in my care, even hired former students of mine when they were old enough. I recently saw a former parent of mine – her son is now 23 years old – I taught him how to tie his shoes. He is working as a childcare director now. Nothing made me happier or left me more determined than ever after hearing those words. Remember “not everyone will understand your journey and that’s fine – It’s not their journey to make sense of it’s yours.
My advice to the guys who are on the fence about becoming a many or entering the early childhood field – do it! You will not regret it. I thought we would see more guys in the course of my nearly two decades in the field – I haven’t and its highly disappointing. As a many I run a household, take care of three precious little ones, I do three individualized lessons throughout the day and I get to have rough and tumble time and act like a goofball. It is a very busy, active career that can actually pay if you get in with the right area or family. There is so much more to mannying than I ever dreamed.
If you are thinking of going the childcare route – do it. There are so many directions to take once you get in. With hard work and determination we can help change the way society views men in early childhood education and many roles. Hopefully in another decade men will be the norm in this field. As I have learned “the road less traveled might just be the ride of your life” – Carol Dean.
Matt has been in childcare for over 10 years. You can check out his Flexable profile by clicking here and you can book care with him directly through is page.