In a market-based model, the need for a Code of Ethics to underpin the work of early childhood educators is critically important. Alongside the National Quality Framework, it provides a framework for ensuring that children’s rights are prioritised, and that educators themselves can advocate for the importance of their own roles and the experiences of children.
Once a year or so, another report, research document or news article appears that highlights the low numbers of male teachers working in early childhood and primary schools. Another was released in the past month, and tells familiar stories of isolation and suspicion.
The problem is tricky to solve, and has been for decades. It’s tricky because the problem isn’t really “the problem”. It’s a symptom of a number of inter-connected and entrenched issues, which are particularly thorny in early childhood.
Asking the right questions
Questions are vital in our work with children. The Early Years Framework (EYLF) and the Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) encourage us to view children’s learning holistically – not as a block of knowledge to be “transmitted” to each child, but as a complex creation of relationships, interests and meaning.
Questioning is a valuable strategy to encourage children’s curiosity and search for understanding. Providing the correct answer to a child is the well-trodden road to knowledge. Responding to children’s questions with questions or curiosity of our own takes us off the main road to the wild lands of imagination and discovery. These are the paths that take us to where none have walked before.
We value questions – but how often do we question our own roles, and our identity as professionals? If we do – are we asking the right questions?
Here’s a question we often hear: Why did you start working in children’s services?
This is a great icebreaker, and we love to tell those stories. I’m fond of mine. I was in the first year of a Media Production degree, and needed a part-time job to fund the meagre lifestyle of a university student.
That’s my answer to that question – but now I know that it’s the wrong question. Our first step doesn’t tell us much about the journey that lies ahead. Other answers I’ve heard include “I always thought children were just cute”, or “it was just an easy job to get”.
The question we need to start asking ourselves is: Why are you still working in children’s services?
This is the question that unlocks our identity as professionals. Working in children’s services is challenging and complex. We know that turnover is a significant issue, as is burnout. People leave our work regularly – but crucially people stay. The reason why we are still here can tell us a lot about our professional identity.
The status of early childhood education has raised significantly in the last decade. Providing children with individual, play-based learning experiences before they start school is now seen as critical to reducing inequality and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed in life.
Australia has acknowledged this with the introduction of the National Quality Agenda. For the first time the entire country came under the same system of regulation and quality support. In particular, the introduction of the EYLF and the FSAC provided a national curriculum framework to support the learning of every child attending a children’s service.
This makes the role of an educator more important than ever before. We know that quality children’s services can dramatically improve children’s chances in life – particularly for children experiencing disadvantage.
All children can benefit from the work we do, but as professionals we must be particularly mindful of how our work can affect individual children. For a number of children that we work with every day, the children’s service they attend may be the most stable, safe and consistent environment available to them. For children of families experiencing poverty, violence, mental health issues, the time they spend with us is critical – not just for their education, but for their overall wellbeing.
The work we do is complex, demanding and incredibly busy. But it is essential that we all regularly take a step back to remind ourselves not why we started, but why we’re still here. We have a powerful role to play in the future lives of children, whether it is fully recognised by society or not.
Ask some of your colleagues why they still do the work they do – the answers might surprise and inspire you.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 edition of InSights, published by Communities@Work’s Centre of Professional Learning and Education.