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% (approx) 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”. 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. 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.  At Gaia ED, we have carefully selected best in class ECE learning environments from around the world and we offer unique opportunities for teachers to experience and witness best practices in action through the lens of the Gaia (Earth) education philosophy, principles and practices. This experience far outweighs reading about it or hearing about it at a conference, as we believe in creating inspirational learning and high impact outcomes for teachers, and this can only be achieved by being fully immersed.

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.

“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

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”.  The next time you reflect on your kindergarten / daycare / preschool / workplace, try to make a difference with 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 to divert funding to where it counts,
  • Ministry of Education to support with more funding and less regulation, and
  • the Government of the day to be bold with long term thinking, backed up with policies that have an immediate effect,

until you do see evidence of things that your child and your teachers deserve.