Written by Kim Bone, Group Curriculum Manager/Mentor and Nikeeta Singh, Founder and Director, Chrysalis Group of Early Learning Centres
Over the years, early childhood education professionals – teachers and caregivers alike – have been given the unwanted and undeserving title of ‘glorified baby sitters’, and people who ‘play with children all day’. However, as a sector, we have been fighting to set the record straight and educate society about the diploma or university degree and even postgraduate degree level training that our teachers have and the importance and value of being an early childhood educator.
As a ~28% stakeholder of the NZ Education Sector (i.e. in basic terms of covering the first 5 years of a 0-18 year schooling spectrum), it’s time we correct the misconceptions and undervalued standings of an early childhood educator or teacher.
Teachers Facilitate and Scaffold the Building Blocks for Life Skills…
“Teachers are our best hope for a better future”. Founders and directors, Nikeeta and Dr Darius Singh, have been promoting this through their inspired “Gaia (Earth) Education Principles” at some of the largest international education conferences and forums in Europe, Sweden, Asia and soon USA (Dec this year). Teachers are the ones who have the greatest opportunity to directly influence the next generation and therefore shape our future – more so than any other profession on the planet. They plant in children’s minds the seeds of hope, thirst for problem solving, guidelines for lasting relationships, and basic desire to continually learn and care about people and the world around us.
Teachers with sound teaching practice and pedagogy equip children with the practical skills, tools, and knowledge that will help them solve future world problems (most of which are already here in the present!). A great teacher will even leave a child with better life outcomes. Research has found that children who stay at school longer, make better life choices and contribute to society more – go figure! This is largely due to the teachers who dedicate their time and energy into cultivating our children’s minds.
Strong teachers are constantly developing their own pedagogy that fosters learning and develops social and emotional intelligence. These necessary life skills ensure that children are able to develop positive daily interactions, maintain lasting relationships with others, think creatively, and handle conflict effectively.
When you think about it, a childcare centre is a mini society in itself, and teachers can learn a lot about different cultures, learning styles and current issues. Our national early childhood curriculum (Te Whāriki) strongly encourages us to forge stronger links and partnerships with our parents and whānau and wider communities. This is what teachers in the early childhood sector do on a daily basis.
But Teachers Need Support Too…
So, how do we ensure that we are looking after this precious resource – that are our Teachers?
It’s important to recognise that ECE teachers (as well as teachers in primary and secondary schools) are on a learning journey too. Like anyone learning, they continuously seek out new strategies, ideas and skills that improve how they can do their part – of course, in a more conscious way. Therefore, providing professional learning and development is crucial for keeping our teachers ahead of an ever-changing environmental, social, cultural and technological landscape.
Learning needs of teachers/educators are aligned with their practice, including areas they have identified themselves to further develop. Within our small family of unique early learning centres, we offer a significant amount of professional development opportunities for our teachers to help them keep ahead of latest research and trends in early childhood education as well as support their individual teaching journeys. In fact we are so proud of this investment into our teachers, that we publish a list of all workshops, courses, conferences and seminars that our teachers attend here.
Having strong and supportive professional leaders and mentors helps empower teachers to continue on their journey of continuous improvement and meet the learning needs of the children in their care. We have also created a culture of constantly checking in on ourselves and peer review (i.e. we constantly question and reflect on our own teaching practices) to try to find better ways of providing for children in our care.
In addition, we always ensure that we exceed the Ministry of Education ratio requirements, so that our teachers have the added supervision support, added peer reflection and added peer reviews from extra team members, who in turn are on their own teaching, learning and development journey to be the best educator they can be too.
That’s ‘Professional Support’, but what about ‘Personal Support’ for our Teaching Colleagues?
“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people“
In our small family of childcare centres at Chrysalis (in Avondale), Magic Kingdom (in Blockhouse Bay), Fern Garden (in Tauranga), Milky Way (in the CBD) and Gaia-Earth Preschool (in Manurewa, near Botanic Gardens), not only do we remunerate our colleagues with attractive wages and salaries (as benchmarked against the NZ Early Childhood Council Annual National Wages Survey), we also proudly offer one of the most attractive Staff Benefits and Well-Being Packages in the sector including:
- Free Health Insurance (including GP visits and prescriptions); 🙂
- Free Life Insurance (we want close family to be supported with $100,000 if the worst was to happen to our colleague); 🙂
- Regular rewards and recognition vouchers; 🙂
- Up to $1500 worth of Professional Development per staff member each year; 🙂
- Free first aid certification; 🙂
- ‘Financial Hardship’ or ‘Family Emergency’ funds support, interest free cash advances (up to $5000) from our directors; 🙂
- Preferred banking benefits as received by the company; 🙂
- Free professional budgeting, investing and accounting advice; 🙂
- Paid day off on birthdays (because we believe no-one should work on their special day!) 🙂
- Lots of consumer goodies discounts that are normally only available to the company; 🙂
- A relaxing and recharging day spa experience every month (because let’s face it – we teachers deserve it!); 🙂
What Can You Do for ECE Teachers?
We as a society have to push for the increasing recognition that teachers need support, encouragement, respect, and a continuous career path towards improvement and excellence, as they are the only ones in the critical role of preparing our children for challenges of life and the future guardianship of the planet. Could there be a more powerful vocation?
As a nation, we have seen the primary, secondary and tertiary teachers engage in industrial action to highlight working conditions. The early childhood sector is also troubled about the lack of government funding and how funds are allocated.
A quote that we recently came across sums up our current climate, ‘Teachers are not in it for the income. They are in it for the outcome’. A passionate teacher will always be there to go the extra mile and care and be champions for our most vulnerable children in society.
How many of you could rearrange this quote to read: “Centre owners are not in it for the income. They are in it for the outcome”. Next time have another good look at your kindergarten / daycare / preschool / workplace and convince yourself that you see visible signs and evidence of significant investment back into the environment for children and teachers, back into resources for children and teachers, and most of all, back into the well-being of children and teachers.
If you don’t see these things, then put pressure on your ECE centre, Ministry of Education, and the government of the day until you do see evidence of things that your child and your teachers deserve.
“Every child should have a caring adult in their lives. And that’s not always a biological parent or family member. It may be a friend or neighbour. Often times it is a teacher” – Joe Manchin
To know more about how we value our teachers, please read on to: