Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Don't give up, childcare needs you!

Have you ever worked as a kindergarten teacher in a childcare centre?

Mum and Dad were singing in their choir at a fete held by a childcare centre on the weekend. Because the centre has such a great reputation Dad talked me into coming and having a look. The director told us to go on in and spend as long as we wanted. I've spent the better part of the last twelve years working in childcare centres. It looked great, but it was nothing new to me. Mum was quite fascinated. I realized that she'd never been inside a childcare centre.

Until the year 2001 I had never been inside a childcare centre. The concept wasn't even in my consciousness. I certainly didn't predict that this would turn out to be my niche for twelve years. If you are a kindergarten teacher and you want to work full-time, childcare centres are your best choice. Kindergarten teachers in childcare insist that their programs are as good as those in sessional kindergartens, and they absolutely can be. With the government encouraging women back into the workforce, kindergarten programs in childcare centres are imperative, and must be the way of the future.

I've found that childcare directors can be wary of hiring teachers who have previously worked in sessional kindergartens because they struggle with the conditions and often don't last. Putting teachers in childcare probably seems like a great idea, but I'm not sure that much time was invested in thinking about how it would work. I know that many teachers feel isolated.

I have never known a kindergarten teacher who had any motive other than to do the best job that they could for the children and families in their care. This is a relatively low paid, high energy job. You have to try to keep children, families and your co-workers happy. You have to train staff, mentor students and collaborate with support staff. There is a very high turnover of educators in the industry, so you have to learn to work well with many different people. Conditions often restrict what you can do which means that you end up donating a lot of extra time in your efforts to do your best. For me this is normal and is just what I've come to expect work to be, but it's not for the fainthearted.

Overwhelmingly, my experience has been of being accepted as part of the team. Starting off at workplaces as a room leader before moving on to kindergarten teacher roles probably had a big part to play in this. Playing down my abilities and even pretending that I didn't have higher qualications helped too. This was due to my own lack of confidence and caused me a lot of distress. I have always felt underestimated and under appreciated. In other words, this tactic didn't really work well for anyone.

Earlier this year I heard Anthony Semann speak at a conference, and he said that he was shocked to realize that many of the women who work in the childcare industry are very low in confidence. I would say that the majority of women that I've met in my life are low in confidence. Some cover it up better than others. As a teacher in childcare you are already more qualified than everyone else, whereas this would never be an issue in a school. Less secure educators may worry that you're judging their practices. It pays to be aware of this so you don't take their behaviour personally.

Completing a degree takes discipline, drive and determination. It's easy to forget how hard it was and to take it for granted. I always do. For less secure people obtaining a degree could seem as impossible as flying to the moon. They may try to prove that your degree means little so that they can regain some control of the power dynamic. I've seen educators go out of their way to find fault with the kindergarten teacher and to take delight in sharing their views with everyone in the centre. Typically kindergarten teachers are not strong, tough, confident people. They are kind, nurturing, caring people. This kind of thing can be soul-destroying. I've seen it happen to my friends. I've seen it happen to myself.

There is a high likelihood that you will be more qualified than your boss. This is the structure of the workplace. There's nothing you can do about it. A great manager will see this as an asset. Unfortunately, many see it as a threat. I'm sure that anyone from any industry would be able to tell you why this workplace structure is not ideal. I have heard that less secure directors prefer to hire graduates for this reason, so your choices may become narrower the longer you stay in the industry.

I'm pretty sure that I've just about outlived my welcome in this industry. It's ironic that it's taken me until now to feel confident that I know enough to be able to fully stand behind the decisions that I make on behalf of children and families. Nothing is ever wasted, however. I have learned so much from working in a variety of positions, with lots of different people, in different states and countries, and within a variety of demographics.

Don't do it my way. It's been a trial by fire, and there have been far too many tears. Don't hold yourself back to fit in, trust your instincts, express yourself, don't be isolated. Network, network, network! Go to lots of professional development days on your own so that you can meet other kindergarten teachers who work in childcare. They are all in this less than ideal situation, and chances are they are experiencing similar challenges. At its best this job can be fun, creative and very rewarding. What you do can change someone's life forever.

This industry will take time to work out what to do with you. Studies around the world show that teacher quality is the highest indicator of educational outcomes for students. We are following the examples of the highest performing early learning centres around the world, the ones that are prioritizing teacher education and qualifications above all else. This industry needs you to pave the way for better practices and to show the government that young children's education is worth investing in. Don't give up.

1 comment:

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