Early Care and Education Manifesto Part 2

Monday, April 19, 2010

So you all know that I am an actual certified Elementary Education Teacher who turned her back on her profession to lay on the floor with Babies. Wasting my rather pricey University of Vermont education in the opinion of many.

The truth is that I never intended to teach above 2nd grade. I knew long before I graduated that I wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher...MAYBE a first or second grade teacher, but never above that. I may have been the only student to ASK to be placed in a Kindergarten for her teaching internship. Even among my K-6 education student peers, Kindergarten was seen as "not really teaching".....whereas in Early Childhood circles, it can be viewed as the brass ring, the place where maybe your salary may be on the low end of par with others. You know, the REAL teachers.

I was fortunate to slide into my career when I did. It was a strange time in Education, with the Whole Language movement being all the rage in Vermont. I had been trained to be "bi-lingual" in these methods - Both Whole Language and the Basal/Phonics methodologies. While I personally favored Whole Language, I also knew how to implement the other methodology if needed. I also had a very thorough training in assessment of reading skills and difficulties. I have to hand it to the professors at UVM - they made sure we came out with a pretty extensive set of skills - a true teacher education program...but I digress. The point is that there was a moment in education when I graduated in which ideologies were in flux. I landed where I was supposed to land - in the world of Early Care and Education.

At that first child care center at which I was employed, the Director handed me the NAEYC book, Developmentally Appropriate Practice. The OLD one. The Green Book. I read it in one night and came back to her the next day and asked "Where was this in my Teacher Education Program? It is completely RIGHT..." That was 1992. I began a re-education through the NAEYC publications at the center, coming back to Developmental Theory that I had ignored in Undergrad.

Because, I learned, you couldn't understand a child if you didn't already have some kind of template in your mind as to why/how they develop. If you can't understand that sorting objects is the basis of Math, or that a baby dropping things off a table is really the beginning of scientific knowledge and curiosity, then there can be no reason for the choice the items you select for the environment. Coupled with my fortunate and life changing introduction to the philosophies of Madga Gerber and RIE, I would never look at the children in my care with anything less than the belief that they were all VERY bright and capable learners...It was ME who had to catch up, not them. If I stopped and listened, they would tell me what they needed from me.

Magda's Mantra was "Unbusy Yourself". Teachers can find things to keep them Busy all the time. There is never a lack of things to do, and in Early Care and Education there are things to be cleaned, washed, disinfected, laundry to fold, bottles to start defrosting because someone is going to wake up hungry and the breast milk takes at Least 30 minutes of sitting in hot water to thaw.... It is easy to make the adult decision that Management of Tasks is your first priority. It would also be the wrong decision.  Teachers who function like this have very tidy classrooms, very pretty bulletin board displays - but lack a certain connection with the children.  If a child doesn't fit in this teachers world, then there is no place for him or her. If the train leaves and if you aren't in your assigned seat then you are Shit outta luck, my friend.

The best Early Childhood Teachers realize early on that YOUR plans are superfluous. Sure, you can have a vague idea of how the day is going to run...but whether or not these things actually happen depend on a wide variety of factors, most of which are well beyond your power to predict. IF Everyone arrives at school and IF everyone is Healthy, and IF everyone has the clothes they need for outdoor play and IF they have all eaten breakfast and IF they have slept that  previous night.....Oh, the list is Long and I am not even getting into the lives of children who see things they should never see. The boy who comes in after his mother was taken to jail the previous night for stabbing a neighbor....Or the one who comes in smelling very much of marijuana saturating his clothes, or the one who just weeps from the moment her mother drops her off until you can finally calm her down by holding her and keeping her next to you for the first three hours of the day.

Early Care and Education Teachers are on the front lines of some very heavy shit. And don't think it is only in "certain" places in "certain" schools. Young children have not learned to entirely shield their emotions and the things they see and feel are reflected right back through their actions, play and drawings. They will talk about things with peers to try and figure out "normal" through the lenses they possess. The teacher role is to listen and guide and reflect, then hopefully liaison back with the team teacher and  parent ( if possible) to discuss.

If a teacher is so busy making sure all the children have done all of the worksheets, or telling them to color the stop sign RED and then CUT IT OUT, there is no time for that observation to happen. The really important things are shoved aside. And let's be honest - If you can't sit at a table next to a peer without kicking them, or poking them with a pencil, what the hell are you going to do with your cut out red stop sign? If you can't find a way to enter into play with peers without kicking over their sand structure...then your Phoneme sounds are really of less concern than your inability to relate to other people your age.

But it comes back to that Crazy Teacher who likes her plans and her schedules. It's THAT type of person who has gotten into higher positions and is now dictating that the only way to Know if a child has learned something is to measure them all the same way. No room for the messy reality of difference. And let us not even TALK About the way some kids need extra time for things to click...or need sensory input to learn.  And oh, did we mention we are going to base YOUR salary on whether or not Your Kids perform to "standard" on this test?  Because everyone performs better when the giant  barbed stick is waiting to smack them.

This does not, and has never meant that Early Care and Education rooms should be Chaos. That was a side swipe we never effectively dealt with as a profession. That DAP ( Developmentally Appropriate Practice) equaled "Everyone gets to run around and do whatever they feel like doing". Oh No. During the time I was a Validator for NAEYC Accreditation, one of the things I rated very heavily was the "Tone" of the room. It should be busy and occasionally loud....but Not out of control. It shouldn't be too quiet. Children should sound happy...busy....occasionally argumentative, you know - NORMAL.  It should be obvious children live in this room - that the room exists FOR children. Art where they can see it. and obviously made by children. Areas set up so that they can independently choose to be in them or not.  It shouldn't be too messy - children shouldn't' have to root through giant plastic buckets to find the things they need or want. But not too clean either.  If it was too clean, I worried Why.  Usually I would find that there was a teacher who would "Close" areas or toys because they didn't want to deal with the mess.

DAP meant, to me, Would I like to be here? Would I feel valued and known in this environment? Would I have an adult to help me if I needed...but not hovering over me? Would there be things I like to do here - would my interests be listened to and encouraged? Would my humor be encouraged? Would there be boundaries and limits that were there to guide me...not punish me? Would I hear NO or DON'T all day?

In the last part o' th manifesto, I want to address the role of the Administrator in preserving the environment for the teachers to do what they needed to do. Because it is really important - and really, really hard. And throw some questions at me if you'd like. Who knows where the next piece will lead?

4 Baleful Regards:

jwg said...

Have you been reading my mind? And I much prefer the old DAP book. The new one is so damned intent on being inclusive of all points of view that the fact that there are right ways and wrong ways has been lost. Sometimes it's OK to say "You Shalt Not" . I'm generally not pleased with NAEYC. At the moment I'm not a member. I started to get angry when the Bush administration imposed inappropriate expectations on Head Start and NAEYC did little, and I've been even more upset as they've been so wishy-washy about the current mess.

Anonymous said...

My head hurts from nodding,yes, yes, yes! What will be interesting is to see the implementation of full-time kindergarten in Ontario, where ECE teachers will be added into the mix and a team-teaching initiative will supposedly be the focus. Of course it's implentation has already been half-assed (predictable) as I will be placed in one of these classrooms when I return from mat. leave in September and so far have received zero information on anything. I'm optimistic because I love a team teaching dynamic and hoping this is a step in the right direction in validating ECE philosophies in the public education classroom. In the past I've taken to posting skill sets (curriculum expectations) that coincide with activity centres, manipulatives on the my door so that everyone (administrators)are aware of the validity of what goes on in my kindergarten classroom. Don't even get me started on having to have detailed day plans!

jwg said...

Me again. The link to your email doesn't work. I really would like to print out these posts to my students. Any way you could email them to me?

A Good Mom said...

I taught preK in CA for 2yrs, FL for 3 yr and went on to teach Kindergarten, then 5th grade before I subbed for a few years. NOW- I have 6 kids and we're radical unschoolers. Talk about a useless degree. Our kids learn what they want when they want and somehow, every year, they all test ahead of their peers in our state's mandatory standardized testing. For the record, I was taught that whole-language was like satan. Imagine- it's so stupid. Kids all learn differently. Any time one "method" is preferred over another, there will be kids who suffer. When will "they" understand that?

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