ECE Career Choice Discussions During the Holidays

‪As friends and family gatherings begin this season, I inevitably embrace questions about my career. I have been fortunate to have received superior training regarding entering the ECEC field, and I anticipated some skepticism about my ECE training and desire to pursue graduate school. Completing a second undergrad degree while meeting the requirements to get my ECE designation, with the intention of going to grad school next fall seems strange to people. ‬”But the pay isn’t that good, is it?” “Have you thought about going to teacher’s college instead?” “But you wouldn’t want to work as an ECE once you have your masters, would you?” “So what kind of a job could you do?” Fortunately, I know of a few people who took this route and am comfortable answering these kinds of questions. After responding several times, I figured I could put together a whole paragraph(s) of my answers that should cover all the typical skepticism that arises:

I do not believe there is such thing as an over-qualified educator. I’m today’s world, educators do more than just “teach” and ECEs do far more than provide supervision while parents work. Working with young children has been a passion of mine for over 10 years, and I am so delighted and privileged to be able to complete the courses required to register with the college of ECEs. Seeing children reach their early life milestones brings me so much joy, and building intimate relationships with many families is one of the most wonderful aspects of my career. I fall more in love with the early learning field as time goes on – particularly because there are incredible movements happening in this sector. Further, I absolutely and fundamentally advocate for emergent curriculum: it is the way I naturally tend to engage with children, attempt to extend learning, build opportunities, and deepen relationships. It fosters the foundation for life-long learning, and it is inherently inclusive. I am very hesitant about teaching school-aged children in the school system due to the set curriculum, and that has been my main reason for committing to completing the ECE requirements prior to graduating, and staying for the summer semester after my cohort leaves. Returning to do a second undergrad degree was a challenging, intentional, and deeply reflective process. Part of this process has been my gravitation towards research, and finding ways to participate in projects and labs in a variety of capacities. I was lucky to find a professor who had both an available project and the willingness to take me on as an undergraduate thesis student, and mentor me through executing some of my own research. And I realized that along with working with young children, research is my other passion. I want to do more of it. And in true emergent/inquiry-based learning fashion, I shall follow that interest until it is exhausted.

As someone who will begin her masters at 29 with limited work experience and a winding path of career interests, it has been challenging to not feel self-conscious about my choices. I want to be able to both practice as an educator and engage in rigorous research regarding human development. It is a shame that ECEs aren’t fairly compensated for the work that they do, but avoiding the field and squandering my passion due to poor pay won’t evoke appropriate change. I am hoping to build a career that involves both my skills as an educator and graduate-level training. I already have training in basic counselling skills, advocacy for the professionalization of the field, social policies, observation and assessment, and understanding ethical and professional issues within the helping professions. Regarding what kind of job I will have: the thing about completing graduate education is that you become educated and trained on a topic that has emerging employment opportunities, depending on the evolution of the field. Some jobs I might be a candidate for include: pedagogical leadership, case worker, policy-related work, knowledge translation, education administration, and program evaluation. The one stable thing I have moving forward is my training as an ECE and it’s inherent continuing professional development opportunities, and that will always open up job opportunities for me. Our world lacks educators who remain in the field for a long time and who complete higher-level education, but I will be one of them.

It is evident to me that ECEs are not publicly viewed with the same respect as teachers – and rightly so. I have long-thought that teachers and early childhood educators deserved the same respect. But I have realized that they do not. The amount of time I spend in washrooms helping children learn self-help skills deserves different recognition than what teachers who spend equal time on their math lessons for the week deserve. The amount of time I spend problem-solving tuen-taking and fostering social skills for children who have emergent communication skills deserves different recognition than teachers spending equal amounts of time on reading skills each week. The amount of time I spend observing the children in my care, document their thinking, planning based on these observations, and sharing this cycle with families daily deserves different recognition than what teachers receive for their planning time each week. I finally realize that the fight isn’t for equality with teachers – early education is its own field for a reason. Teachers deserve all the respect they receive and more. And they are fighting for some of that right now in Ontario. This fight allowed me to realize that some of their stable recognition and ability to fight is due to unions. ECEs have little protection due to un-unionized employment in a patch-work system of childcare in Canada. And yet it is this same system that was able to evolve and update effectively to implement emergent curriculum, Ontario’s guiding pedagogical documents, and the world-wide movements toward more outdoor play. I am a proud educator (in training) who is willing to constantly update my skills and learning in-line with future field updates, and I am proud to be an ally to teachers at this time. We have so much growth still, and so much to offer the fields of education, social services, and business.

Moving forward I plan to find a concise way to share these thoughts when they come up during small talk. I value every opportunity I have to discuss my field, though, and I do not want the questions to stop – it’s likely what the sector needs to move forward. Childcare can be a hidden and unanticipated cost for families that is very burdensome, and this strengthens the notion that accessible, universal childcare is essential in Canada: for the children’s, families’s, and educators’ sake. This season I have been fortunate to have been able to reflect on these questions and formulate some adequate responses. I can’t wait to hear what my responses will be in a year from now as well.

Personal Philosophy Statement

As an aspiring ECE, and a student planning on pursuing graduate work in the helping profession that is related to child development, I put a lot of thought into creating a personal philosophy statement regarding working with families. Although this particular statement is heavily related to educating, I believe it applies to working with young children across various capacities. I am sharing it here to indicate to my audience a transparent presentation of my values.

Personal Philosophy Statement

My personal philosophy for working with children and families considers the notion that all individuals are competent, curious, capable, and curious life-long learners who are entitled to access to life-long and developmentally appropriate learning opportunities within the context of, and in collaboration with, their community and family (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). I employ a relationships-based approach while working with children and families and believe that we can all learn from and grow with each other best through our relationships. Further, I highly consider the neurocognitive processes and right-brain to right-brain synchronicity when building these relationships. My personal approach to teaching focuses on the social-emotional readiness for learning and facilitating emergent and responsive key experiences that consider familial and cultural contexts to help children actively engage in their learning in meaningful ways (HighScope inspired). Thus, I believe good teaching employs a wide variety of observational, facilitative, and assessment strategies in order to offer unique opportunities to each specific group of learners to allow them to explore their interests independently.

More specifically, I believe that high-quality teaching practices requires an ebb and flow between: minimal direct instruction (Montessori-inspired); scaffolding for extending learning (constructivist approach); behaviour guidance in collaboration with the learners (HighScope inspired); preparation of the environment to not only act as the “third teacher” (Reggio Emilia inspired) but also to help offer a calm learning environment (Shanker, 2016); monitoring and modifying for facilitating belonging, engagement, wellbeing, and expression (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014); facilitating active engagement with, and investigation of, the learning materials (constructivist approaches); assessing and considering stages of development in program planning (Piaget’s stages and Best Start Panel on Early Learning, 2014); and hands-off supervision during times of exploration, experimentation, and opportunities for logical consequences to unfold (Montessori approach).

Moreover, I execute the Self Reg steps when children are upset (Shanker, 2016) in order to relieve their stress and prepare them for learning. This approach works well, but sometimes requires collaboration others to truly uncover and resolve conflicts. I use the HighScope conflict resolution approach wherever possible (The Active Learner, 2018), which is extremely effective in revolving immediate conflict, but requires substantiable follow-up for resolving on-going tension between individuals. However, both of these incidents and interventions would cause me to reflect on the environmental influences, including the influence of routines and expectations, on the learning space and consider whether there are changes I could make to further facilitate safe, nurturing, supportive, engaging, and developmentally appropriate learning opportunities. Additionally, when considering various developmental and interests of the children in my care, I incorporate physical objects as well as books and pictures that are responsive to (and that sometimes combine) these factors. This process is very trial-and-error based and often requires in-the-moment modifications to ensure appropriate engagement. We may remain on these topics until the children indicate they are satisfied and no longer curious about the topic.

Emergent interests and abilities, play, and inquiry are at the heart of my pedagogical practice and made possible through program plans that are developed based on observation, documentation, and reflections. A circular, rather than linear, view could be used when considering my approach (Stacey, 2009). Further, although ideal programming is child-centered and open-ended, my teaching practice also includes my personal strengths and natural talents, so that I can capitalize on my shared interests with the children, am a present and active co-learner, and form authentic relationships. More specifically, nature-based play, music, expression through movement are some of modes I prefer to use while teaching.