Why I will always choose to teach in early childhood

Kate Reading to Kindy Children

Recently I was asked to speak at a career expo for pre-service early childhood teachers preparing to transition to the field. I guess the universe heard me loud and clear when I said I was ready to say ‘yes’ to new challenges and things that terrify me (like public speaking and playing team sports) in 2024!

When I was asked to give this speech, I remembered sitting on the cusp of that precipice as a ready-to-graduate teacher, full of anticipation and a healthy dose of optimism as I tried to decide, ‘Where do I want to teach?’.

I was asked to reflect on why I chose to make my career in early childhood and not primary school. There are plenty of reasons I could have given—more opportunities to support families and to partner with your community, more flexibility about when you can take your holidays (so you’re not packed into the Gold Coast with every other teacher and a million children), or how great it is working as part of a collaborative and supportive team with your often very experienced co-educator. But the real reason for me is the magic that exists when you get to follow an emergent, genuinely child-centred curriculum.

It’s those opportunities to use your imagination and creativity to respond to a child’s interest and the unexpected places it can take you when you say ‘yes’ to a child’s request to explore something they are deeply interested in.

It’s spending your days in beautiful learning environments that are designed with children in mind; spaces that allow children to experience freedom and autonomy and have ample opportunity to move their bodies, take risks, and play.

It’s those moments of pure joy when you watch a child have an ‘aha!’ moment when their hypothesis is correct.

Sometimes it’s that moment of epiphany when you realise exactly what you need to do to connect with that new or ‘tricky’ child.

For me, being an early childhood teacher (ECT) means that every day I get opportunities to experience the magic of childhood, through the eyes of the children in front of me.

I spent a few years teaching in primary schools and I enjoyed the challenge. But returning to the early years – especially, for me, the Kindy year, I was reminded of how fun and fulfilling it can be. As an ECT, I get to be my most playful, reflective and professional self simultaneously. One of the biggest differences in the curriculum is how spacious early childhood can feel. I often struggled with the primary curriculum, knowing that I needed to teach specific content at a specific time of year, even if what I knew about my group of children told me they weren’t ready. And then I had to hurry on to the next topic, often before many of the children were ready to move on. In

contrast, Kindy feels unhurried, and I enjoy being able to sing, dance, do puppet shows and read endless stories … as well as slow down and be present and attuned with children. When you teach following a curriculum like the EYLF, you get to experience the joy of professional autonomy and of taking the time to make pedagogical choices that are informed by research, your unique setting and the children in your class. You also don’t have learning moments interrupted by a lunch bell!

That’s not to say that there aren’t genuine challenges, particularly around supporting children with inclusion needs or those children who need a little more nurturing to find their place within the group. But when you DO find just the right strategy to help that little person thrive, I don’t think anything beats that feeling. I love the learning that happens for children around equity and equality when they get to observe first-hand that sometimes another child might need a little more support and care than them at that moment—and that’s okay.

I feel lucky to use my position as a teacher to actively model and teach consent, a topic close to my heart. Sometimes this looks like having conversations with parents about children’s digital footprints and planting seeds about informed consent with photography. Other times it’s modelling respectful, consensual ways of approaching care moments, such as settling children to sleep or supporting them with toileting. When new teachers see the power of slowing down in these moments, inviting children to actively participate, tuning in to their cues and responding kindly, they begin to see them as what they really are—opportunities to connect while empowering children to develop agency.

I find so much joy in those care moments, where I stop to help a child tie their shoelace or make their bed and they share with me something really important to them or even just something that makes me laugh.

I enjoy working collaboratively with a co-educator—having someone to bounce ideas off and someone to stretch my thinking and challenge my assumptions. And someone who really ‘gets it’ on the days when I need to vent. Some of my longest friendships are with people who I shared a classroom and moments of deep, critical reflection with.

Maya Angelou said, ‘Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it’. At this point in my career, it’s been lovely to reflect on this quote and realise that I really like who I am and what I do when I am in an early years classroom. Making my career in early childhood education and care has been transformative, rewarding, surprising and so full of joy. And if I could go back to that moment where my 22-year-old self was wondering whether to take the leap, I’d whisper in her ear, ‘You’ll love it’.

ECA Recommends: Box of Provocations for Early Childhood Educators

By Anne Stonehouse

The cards in this collection are intended to support critical reflection, discussion, debate and deeper thinking about teaching, learning and what it means to be a professional educator. Their use will result in a better learning experience for children, families and educators.

The provocations can be used with educators with all levels of formal qualifications and experience. There are many ways to use the provocations in a variety of settings.

Beautifully presented and made to last, these will be a popular resource in your service for many years to come.

Kate Redward

Kate Redward is the Education and Digital Content Advisor at C&K. Throughout her career in early childhood, she has worn many professional hats including early childhood teacher in ECEC and Steiner settings, centre director, primary school teacher and tertiary supervisor. These days, she is finally using that old public relations degree for the ‘greater good’, channelling her passion for advocacy into helping teachers share their stories of practice and pedagogy.

3 thoughts on “Why I will always choose to teach in early childhood”

    Leanne Potter says:

    Thank you for sharing! I’m employed as an ECT at a C&K in a small rural town in regional Qld, & I absolutely agree – I love the joy & magic in this environment. I feel so lucky to be able to go to work each day & join in the wonder of discovery & the joy of play.

    Kate Redward says:

    You’re so welcome Leanne! It was a joy to write and reflect on the privilege I feel to do this work. Hope I get to meet you at a C&K conference one day and swap some stories!

    Beth says:

    This is so beautiful and so very true. Thank you for sharing it with us all

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