Start with ABC of teach­ing

Early child­hood teach­ing is an im­por­tant step in cre­at­ing a fairer so­ci­ety, writes Ju­lia Stir­ling

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Career One -

EARLY child­hood teach­ing is ‘‘ in­cred­i­bly re­ward­ing’’, says Ker­ryn Jones, be­cause you can make a dif­fer­ence to the life of a child and their fam­ily and the re­la­tion­ship they have to­gether. ‘‘ I have a sig­nif­i­cant role to play in lay­ing the foun­da­tions of a child’s learn­ing jour­ney and their de­vel­op­ment as a per­son,’’ she says. Jones also has a strong com­mit­ment to so­cial jus­tice and each day she goes to work know­ing that she can make a dif­fer­ence in cre­at­ing a fairer so­ci­ety.

‘‘ Kinder­garten is a rather spe­cial place — it’s not an in­sti­tu­tion­alised learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment, but rather, a per­son­alised learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.’’ Jones says there is pres­sure to ac­cel­er­ate chil­dren’s learn­ing in the aca­demic ar­eas to the detri­ment of their de­vel­op­ment as a whole per­son.

‘‘ There is no point in a child be­ing able to re­cite the al­pha­bet and count to 100 if they are un­able to make a friend. Chil­dren have a right or en­ti­tle­ment to a child­hood and I worry whether it is in­creas­ingly be­ing taken away,’’ she says.

Jones is di­rec­tor of Pen­ning­ton kinder­garten in Ade­laide, and says good ‘‘ peo­ple skills’’ are vi­tal for the job. ‘‘ Each day I would have in­ter­ac­tions with at least 100 peo­ple — chil­dren, fam­i­lies, staff mem­bers, and peo­ple on the phone — so good com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills are es­sen­tial.’’

One-third of the chil­dren at­tend­ing Pen­ning­ton kinder­garten come from fam­i­lies who speak English as a sec­ond lan­guage, and Jones is learn­ing to speak Viet­namese to help build stronger re­la­tion­ships with the Viet­namese speak­ing chil­dren, par­ents and staff.

Jones co-au­thored Per­sona Dolls:Anti Bias in Ac­tion and her teach­ing is strongly fo­cused on work­ing with chil­dren around rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and lay­ing the foun­da­tions for be­hav­iours that are so­cially just and fair. So­cial jus­tice is­sues are placed at the heart of the cur­ricu­lum.

When staff in­ter­act with chil­dren they keep in mind how best to help chil­dren learn pat­terns of be­hav­iour or ways of be­ing that are ‘‘ in­clu­sive of dif­fer­ence and ac­cept­ing of dif­fer­ence, and are based on prin­ci­pals of fair­ness and eq­uity’’.

In 1984 Jones com­pleted her four-year Bach­e­lor of Early Child­hood Ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney and has since worked across private, com­mu­nity-based and gov­ern­ment sec­tors and in dif­fer­ent ser­vice types.

Says Jones, ‘‘ The Bach­e­lor of Early Child­hood en­ables a grad­u­ate to con­sider a num­ber of ca­reer paths in dif­fer­ent early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion set­tings, such as long-day­care cen­tres, preschools/kinder­gartens, and ju­nior pri­mary schools.

‘‘ Th­ese ca­reer paths can be in com­mu­ni­ty­based ser­vices, state run ser­vices/schools, or in the private or in­de­pen­dent sec­tors. The pay does vary across th­ese dif­fer­ent sec­tors and across the dif­fer­ent states, so I would ad­vise grad­u­ates to in­ves­ti­gate what the pay struc­tures look like in their state. There are also pos­si­bil­i­ties in th­ese sec­tors to work in man­age­ment or in a range of ad­vi­sory, or train­ing or re­source de­vel­op­ment roles.’’

There is a short­age of early child­hood teach­ers in re­mote and rural ar­eas and it can be dif­fi­cult to at­tract early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers into long-day­care cen­tres be­cause of par­ity of pay and con­di­tions.

In­ter­na­tional re­search shows early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion gives the best start to school­ing but many thou­sands of chil­dren are miss­ing out on kinder­garten/preschool. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent OECD re­port, Start­ing Strong 11, Aus­tralia, com­pared with 19 other first world coun­tries, has very low lev­els of in­vest­ment in qual­ity child­hood ser­vices.

Monash Univer­sity is now de­liv­er­ing an al­ter­na­tive model to their four-year Bach­e­lor of Early Child­hood Stud­ies to help coun­ter­act the chronic short­ages of early child­hood teach­ers in re­mote and rural ar­eas. TAFE grad­u­ates with a diploma in chil­dren’s ser­vices, who live and work in re­mote and rural ar­eas, can up­grade their diploma qual­i­fi­ca­tion to a three-year teach­ing de­gree. The course is de­liv­ered in a com­bi­na­tion of dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion and face-to-face in­ten­sive sem­i­nars held in the city cen­tre twice per se­mes­ter.

Ex­perts agree that spe­cial­ist early child­hood teach­ers are vi­tal to the de­liv­ery of qual­ity care and educ­tion in the early child­hood ser­vices.

Marie Ham­mer, course co-or­di­na­tor of Early Child­hood at Monash Univer­sity and pres­i­dent of Early Child­hood Aus­tralia (Vic­to­rian branch) says, re­search into qual­ity early child­hood pro­grams iden­ti­fies the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of spe­cial­ist early child­hood staff as the sin­gle great­est in­di­ca­tor of qual­ity.

‘‘ In­ter­ac­tions with young chil­dren that are based on de­tailed un­der­stand­ings of chil­dren’s strengths, in­ter­ests and the ways in which young chil­dren learn through play, are crit­i­cal to de­vel­op­ing chil­dren’s po­ten­tial and skills for learn­ing.

‘‘ Highly qual­i­fied staff need th­ese skills to de­sign, im­ple­ment, and eval­u­ate pro­grams in early child­hood set­tings that en­sure the pro­grams are mean­ing­ful and rel­e­vant to the chil­dren within the chil­dren’s so­cial and cul­tural set­tings,’’ she says.

Fay Hadley com­pleted a Bach­e­lor of Early Child­hood Ed­u­ca­tion in 1990. She started out as a preschool teacher in a com­mu­nity-based long­day­care cen­tre in Can­berra where, in 1993, she also be­came the di­rec­tor.

The de­gree is trans­fer­able, and a brief stint over­seas found her work­ing in sev­eral in­ner Lon­don pri­mary schools, be­fore mov­ing back to Syd­ney where she be­came di­rec­tor of a private cen­tre which she ‘‘ set up from scratch’’. Post- grad­u­ate stud­ies al­lowed her to find em­ploy­ment as a project man­ager and re­search as­so­ci­ate at the Univer­sity of West­ern Syd­ney, and Hadley has just com­pleted her PhD and is cur­rently work­ing as an early child­hood lec­turer at Mac­quarie Univer­sity.

Hadley’s first job taught her to be flexible in her approach to teach­ing and that a one-siz­e­fits-all model doesn’t work. She dealt with fam­i­lies strug­gling with do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, drug ad­dic­tions, poverty and dis­abil­ity.

Hadley says she be­came aware of her bi­ases and the ex­pe­ri­ence in work­ing with di­verse fam­i­lies set her on a path to ‘‘ de­velop skills in fos­ter­ing in­clu­sion and con­nec­tions’’.

While there are many re­wards in teach­ing young chil­dren, Hadley says at times it can be phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally drain­ing.

‘‘ You can have a par­ent walk in and burst into tears, and you take them into the of­fice and (they’ll tell you) they’ve just been di­ag­nosed with a se­ri­ous ill­ness — you’ve known those fam­i­lies for a long time, so you do be­come emo­tion­ally at­tached to them.’’

From a phys­i­cal per­spec­tive, Hadley says peo­ple think you’re just sit­ting down ‘‘ hav­ing a great time in the sand pit’’. ‘‘ You re­ally are phys­i­cally ex­hausted by the end of the day, some­times peo­ple work nine-hour shifts — you just get a very short lunch break — and the rest of the time you are there with the chil­dren, par­tic­i­pat­ing in ev­ery­thing they are par­tic­i­pat­ing in.’’

Both Hadley and Jones stress the need for teach­ers to be given time away from the chil­dren to crit­i­cally re­flect and set up pro­grams. Be­cause of the eco­nomic way ser­vices are run now, Hadley says ‘‘ it’s a lot about the bot­tom dol­lar, and the things that cost the most are those times you are re­leas­ing staff away from chil­dren. Be­cause of ra­tios you have to re­place (staff).’’

Ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ments pro­vide teach­ers with time away from chil­dren to pro­gram and crit­i­cally re­flect, but in private cen­tres and com­mu­nity-based cen­tres, Hadley says it would just de­pend on whether man­age­ment thought they could af­ford to fac­tor that in.

Early child­hood ed­u­ca­tors need to be crit­i­cally re­flec­tive peo­ple who en­quire into ed­u­ca­tional prac­tice, says Jones. ‘‘ There is no room for av­er­age teach­ers, we need peo­ple who are will­ing to think, learn and give 100 per cent to the pro­fes­sion.’’

Jones ex­plains teach­ers in early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion need to speak up about what are in the best in­ter­ests of the child. ‘‘ That could be around gov­ern­ment pol­icy, it can be around com­mu­nity plan­ning in the lo­cal area, so help­ing to give chil­dren a voice. It’s about par­tic­i­pat­ing in de­bates and con­ver­sa­tions about the rights of chil­dren be­cause they of­ten don’t have a voice in the com­mu­nity.’’

Hadley says stu­dents ‘‘ need to have a very good un­der­stand­ing of what poli­cies are com­ing out and who is do­ing what. They need to be savvy around ad­vo­cacy and be able to stand up and be ar­tic­u­late about what is needed.’’

Hadley says stu­dents are also sur­prised at how much power they have in re­la­tion to ne­go­ti­at­ing their con­di­tions be­cause of the short­age of early child­hood staff.

Pic­ture: Kelly Barnes

Foun­da­tions of life: Kinder­garten is a spe­cial place, says Ker­ryn Jones

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