I loved working with Infants and Toddlers. Truly.
Professionally, it may have been the happiest I was - despite the incredibly poor salary and penchant for having to go to the doctor and confess that I was pretty sure I had Croup, or Ear Infections or whatever else was marching through the classroom.
It may amaze some that caring for the youngest children was where I found my professional calling, but it really shouldn't. People who work, successfully, with Infants and Toddlers tend to be the best all around teachers in the long run. Our crucible, you see, is one in which there can be no ego - no moment when we aren't willing to throw it all into the bin and begin again.
There are no harsher judges of character than a room full of Infants and Toddlers. They see through adult facades. They, frankly, don't care who you think you are. They are all about the integration of Deed and Action and as such are like sniffer dogs in their ability to detect and react to Fakes.
In fact, I used to rely on specific children when I would interview assistant teachers during my time teaching. I knew that certain children would intuitively express preference for "authentic" adults. Children who would normally never approach strangers might sidle up to the people with the right attributes and offer them a book or toy. That was an excellent sign, in my book.
You must de-center with infants. Since so much of their care depends on highly attuned observation and continual assessment, the central question cannot be “Why aren’t they following my script?” but rather “What do they need that they are showing me through their behaviors and reactions?” It is a highly reflexive style of teaching that asks the Teacher to move from “expert” to “active participant” in the classroom.
When it isn't about Me, but all about Them, they learned learned to trust me, implicitly. People who didn't see it would scoff when I would describe how infants would ASK to be put in their cribs for nap, or when I would explain that I didn't serve breakfasts or lunches until the Infant or Toddler Told me they were hungry (Usually by crawling to the meal table and patting the top)...or how children as young as six months could start using the "all done" sign to indicate they were ready to wash up and get down after a meal.
Partly it was my sense that I wasn't going to ask them to do something - like eat or nap - if they weren't ready to do it. I was never trying to get "rid" of them by putting them down to nap.
(Obviously VERY young infants are a different story and rely on adults to help them. I am not talking about infants under 5 months or so, when they become very different people as the synapses get myelinated and things start to really kick off. Up to that Point, consistent anticipatory care is the cornerstone of the trust relationship between adult and child.)
Partly is was Me. I get the desire to have what people say and do match up. Infants and Toddlers rewarded me for my honesty and transparency. Adults don't always feel the same way, I'm afraid.
I get the need to have Time to figure it out, even if it takes me a bit longer, or if I need to do it six more times than the other kid. I understand the desire to make mistakes and be comforted by a warm hug and someone to brush me off, asking if I am all right, but not negating my feelings of sadness or disappointment.
I understand the desire to have a giant tantrum, rolling around and kicking and screaming, because it is all too fucking MUCH - and when I am done, to be snuggled and accepted for being human.
I miss working with Infants and Toddlers - more than I can bear, at times. My dream would be to be in a place where I could work in a centre in direct care for part time, and teach/research the other part time - but it doesn't really work like that, I fear.
Maybe one day. I can dream.