Is Early Childhood Education a Dead End Job?

This semester I am taking two courses on administration. They are required for my major, but I have been eyeing an administration job for a couple of months now – something that I once said that I would never do. Never say never. You never know where life will take you.

Anyway, I ran into an interesting thought while completing a homework assignment for the course. Apparently, childcare is viewed as a dead-end job by many people. The whole idea of it is funny to me, because I have never viewed it that way. Sure, the job doesn’t pay very much, but it really is one of those jobs that you have to love in order to do it effectively. I’m sure that if you don’t love it, it can be one of the most miserable jobs in the world, especially since it really doesn’t pay.

However, the main reason why I am surprised at this view is because there is so much that goes into the idea of teaching children and education in general:

  • The psychology of how children learn and how people think is intimately tied to Early Childhood Education. If an educator does not understand the basic principles of learning and thinking, it is very hard to be effective in the classroom.
  • Psychology is also involved when it comes to classroom management and the way that children behave. Not understanding the basics of what makes us act the way that we do can make it very hard to maintain control of a classroom of that many children.
  • Philosophy is necessary when a teacher needs to define their beliefs about teaching and learning. Basic knowledge about the nature of man¬†and how one views man in general is key to how we treat children while we are teaching them.
  • Knowledge of child development is necessary so that we don’t overstimulate, over-challenge, or under-challenge children. This fits right into the psychology category, as well.
  • In some cases, a basic knowledge of interior design is needed to be able to create workable spaces for children to learn in. I have seen many, many spaces that have been inspirational to me, and have studied what other people have done that they say works – and what they say doesn’t.

The list of the knowledge requirements for being an effective teacher goes on and on, and there is so much to explore and learn in the quest to be an effective teacher that I have never viewed the field or the job as dead-end. But, as I said at the beginning of this post, it is something that you have to have an active interest in and love doing before doing the work that is required to learn the aspects of education becomes enjoyable.

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Are We Good Or Bad?

Six years ago I took my first college course on education. It is a course that is mandated for lead teachers of ECE in my state. In that class I was posed this question for the first time:

“Do you believe that children are basically good, or basically evil?”

There weren’t a lot of answers to that question the day that it was posed to us, or any other day after that. This question is philosophical at its core, and I’m not sure that a lot of people take the time to really think about the implications of the question. But having thought about it myself, I have realized that this little question shapes what we do in the classroom, our expectations of children, and how we treat them.

This is probably the most important question that teachers can ask themselves.

A few days after the question was posed, it was posed again. And I answered that children are basically good. This went against any philosophical teaching that I had, because my philosophical background taught that people are generally evil. They do evil things and think evil thoughts. However, as someone who was going into the teaching profession, I refused to say that children were basically evil. I realized on some level that this answer would shape my teaching practice in an entirely different way than the other answer.

As the years have gone by and I have shaped my teaching practices around the idea that children are basically good, I have seen mountains of evidence pointing toward that being the actual case. Children are capable. They are strong. They are resilient. They are curious.

It is our own beliefs and backgrounds that have us paint children as evil or bad. Our own beliefs about how the world is and how children should behave in it skew our viewpoint, so that when we see these traits in children we label them as bad. It is time that we come up with new labels for children, like curious, capable, and strong.

The most interesting thing about these labels is, when we begin to use them we start seeing them more frequently in more and more children around us. And we also begin to see them in ourselves, because we are looking for them all around us.

I urge my fellow teachers to think about this question and the implications of it in the classroom. Think about which answer your own teaching reflects. Think about the qualities you see in children and how you really want to see children. Ask yourself, are children good or bad?

Remembering How To Play

I look back at some of my more recent posts and I feel that I owe my readers an apology. I’m not even sure that I know who that person is that wrote those posts. Someone sad and lost, I think. That is where I have been for the past six or seven months. It took me a while to figure out why, but I think that I have finally gotten myself together.

I wrote recently that the children in my class do not know how to play. I think that a more accurate assessment of the situation is that I have forgotten how to play. My philosophy of education, which I so fiercely defended when I was in my first co-teacher position, went straight out the window when I entered my second. I was so focused on the special needs issues of the classroom that I neglected the other children in the room. When I turned my attention to the other children, I began to focus more on what I wanted them to learn rather than what they wanted to learn. I began to use coercion and punishment in order to achieve circle times, bathroom times, and other activities. Discipline problems began to rise and nerves began to get frazzled – and not just mine, but the children’s as well. Making the children do what I wanted to do became the order of the day, and while we fought tooth and nail to get things done, it felt like we got nothing done. Activities lost their meaning because more time was spent on a battle of wills than on any meaningful classroom projects. And through it all, I lost the love of my job. I began to hate going to work. I haven’t picked up a book bout early childhood education in months. The workshops that I so lovingly and excitedly prepared are gathering dust because I have had no energy or desire to do anything with them.

A turn-around in my thought process began this week as I wondered where the researcher in me went. That was why I loved this job so much – the thrill of figuring out why children do the things they do, how they think about certain things and why, and how to work with them to change their thought processes. Why d they behave a certain way in certain situations? These are puzzles that my brain loves to figure out, and these puzzles are absent from a classroom where everything that is done is what the teacher wills. The children lose their individuality in that case and become part of a group, and the puzzles become meaningless. The researcher in me gets lost in the shuffle, being taken over by the dictator who plans every moment and decrees every movement.

Upon further examination of the situation, I realized that my focus had also shifted from the children to the subject matter. I longed to teach my class about houses in the same way that I had taught my previous class, but I had forgotten that the subject of houses had arisen from the interest that the children showed in them rather than a desire by me to teach them about houses. I forgot that every big project that we did stemmed from their interest first. I forgot that no activity was mandatory, but usually no decree was needed; the children usually magically gravitated toward the activities that I laid out. The classroom was wildly productive and there was mutual respect shown between the teacher and students. Classroom rules weren’t stated as arbitrary decrees, but were handed out with logical explanations that the children could understand.

I have begun interacting with the class differently, keeping in mind the amount of time I ask the children to sit; keeping in mind the use of arbitrary statements; keeping in mind that activities can flow from the children just as easily as they can flow through the lesson plan. The results have been amazing. I have seen a huge downshift in the amount of behavior problems that had flared up. The appearance of individual personalities in the classroom has led to an appearance of several social and physical behaviors that need to be worked on. A problem that seemingly had no cause is showing signs of a pattern.

The problem has been one of philosophy. I have tried to overlay my educational philosophy onto one that is counter to mine, and the results ended up being a surrender of my educational beliefs. Going forward, I will have to figure out how to reconcile this. For now, I am having fun finding my way back to a classroom that I can enjoy being in.

And I am also having fun remembering how to play.

Reflecting on the Week Behind Me

Wow, what a week! I had been on vacation this past week, and I am looking forward to going back to work tomorrow. But I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the things that I did this week and how they have seemed to change my frame of mind.

First, I defined and publicized where I stand philosophically. I think that this one act did more to help my frame of mind more than anything else I did this past week.

See, I work in child care, and I love my job. I enjoy teaching and working with kids. I want to find ways to teach kids better. I think that kids have amazing potential that child care professionals don’t give them credit for a lot of the time. But my philosophical views were making me very close-minded as to what the best methods are to teach. This close-mindedness made it difficult for me to look at current trends and research without any prejudice against them. My own narrow-mindedness made it extremely difficult to find new methods that work or that can help improve my methods.

Defining my own philosophy helped in that it seemed to set me free to examine everything in a new light, and I have learned so much this past week! I have even come across some methods that I am going to try, methods that I know I would have scoffed at or had something smart to say about only a few weeks ago. It is absolutely amazing to me what a little knowledge will do for your mind.

So I am thoroughly looking forward to going back to work to learn even more and try new things. It is an exciting field that I am in, and I love every minute of my time in it.