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.

Reflections From My First Lab-School Placement

This is a reflection from my first practicum placement to meet the requirements to register as an early childhood educator in Ontario. I began my 12-hour/week placement in September 2019 and wrote this reflection mid-October in response to my initial reactions to my experience.

Upon beginning my first ECE placement, I was really impressed with how the educators were using resources such as space, materials, the outdoor environment, and their documentation skills. It took me a couple weeks to feel comfortable working with the children and get used to being observed. A big surprise for me was not so much regarding something about myself, but regarding something I was observing: the ways in which the educators interact with the children. I saw educators hugging children in the classrooms and yelling “I LOVE YOU!” back and forth with children on the playground after they had moved to other classrooms. I also saw educators kiss children on the cheek, squish children’s cheeks with affection, and cuddle on the couch. Additionally, some educators expressed exhilaration when a child reached a milestone and frustration when a child had been crying for most of the morning. These observations were something I remained “stuck” on and they held my attention during my initial days in practicum.

These interactions made me feel uncomfortable: something was not aligning with my understanding of best practices for working with young children. I felt a bit let-down during these first few days, because something was not meeting my expectations. I felt as though the educators were being unprofessional, and this challenged some of my recently-formed beliefs about quality in the ECEC field – was this the kind of behaviour that makes people question the professionalism of ECE’s? I began questioning the “educated educators” myself and felt that these affectionate practices were especially unprofessional for a lab-school centre that provides high-quality childcare and learning. I started wondering why I was not noticing the educator-child interactions I was expecting and that I assumed were necessary for extending learning, scaffolding, and fostering autonomy, self-regulation, belonging, engagement, and expression.

Considering my background with (pre)school-age children in their homes, schools, camps, and playrooms, the public image and customer service considerations were often prioritized over physical comfort and affection for the children in my care, and litigation and suspicion loomed for anyone who was too intimate with the children for too long. Considering that my previous experiences trained me to be aware of my physical contact with children, I realized that I may have entered my placement with a skewed perception on what “care” means for young children. Although I have hugged children many times, I would: a) always ask before hugging, b) often not let the hug linger, and c) redirect to high-fives in the school setting. Observing these different practices caused me to reconsider my approaches. Through reflection and further observation, I realized the educators oscillated between various kinds of responsive interactions and I had not noticed the extensions of learning because it was done subtly and smoothly, while I was focussed on the affection. Further, my knowledge of child development informs me that young children learn through relationships, co-regulation, and their senses, and as such, physical contact, at times, is likely essential for young children learning to navigate the world and understand themselves. Thus, physical affection makes sense for young children, and my own practice likely needs to change. Additionally, spending time “collecting and connecting” with children, rather than constantly guiding behaviour, is an element of process quality that educators should strive for in their practice, as these educators do. Realizing this consideration resolved much of my discomfort.

Moreover, I realized I was initially surprised by these observations because I was expecting educators to take an idealized, hands-off approach to fostering independence and autonomy in a way that would children that would “wow” me. I was expecting the relationship-based approach to resemble shared experiences through discussions and play, not through affection and intimacy. What I saw reminded me of what I have witnessed in many other childcare settings. I felt I was seeing some raw emotions from the educators: from joy and passion to fear and exhaustion. Considering the educators’ well-being, I eventually realized I was impressed that the educators felt comfortable expressing themselves and to be authentic and caring in their interactions with the children. Perhaps I was even a bit jealous that the educators at the lab-school were able to be considered in high regards while still retaining the special and personal relationships with children that created the foundation for many of us to enter this field in the first place.

This reflective experience has softened my own approach, causing me to consider what it really means to grow with young children. I recently learned that sometimes educators are considered “extended family”, and intimacy makes more sense when considering the family context and educator-parent-child collaboration. I can now consider relationship dynamics to better inform the context of the affectionate moments I witnessed within relationships I am not yet a part of. I now expect to be able to tune-in to other interactions and recognize strategies I want to integrate into my own repertoire. I also now assume that the educator’s interact differently with different children, such as hugging and kissing those form families they are closest with and whom they have cared for longest.

I suspect my biggest challenge for the rest of the semester will be to let my guard down in order to participate in authentic and affectionate moments with children, without feeling like I’m crossing a boundary – and this will only be done through getting to know their families. I have struggled in my personal life to be honest in expressing my feelings, so I will have to find the right language and timing for respectful expression of my range of emotions, which I hope my lead teacher will help me with. That kind of balance is what I strive to achieve in my future career as an educator and researcher; however, that should I ever mentor students, I would want to have intentional conversations about some of these intimate interactions they may witness in order to clarify the expectation for students as new personnel and aspiring educators. I now have a renewed hope for myself, and respect for the educators, in providing comfort and warmth to young children.