By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I will begin this blog post with a pledge to always be first and foremost a proud early childhood educator and member of both my professional association, the Association for Early Childhood Educators of Ontario (AECEO) and the regulatory body, the College of Early Childhood Educators (CECE) , that oversees my chosen profession. Like many early childhood educators that I have had the privilege to know, I did not set my career sights on early childhood education. However, when I decided to enter the profession of early childhood education, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Early childhood educators are the heart and soul of education. I am proud to be an early childhood educator.
“The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.” ~ Maria Montessori
As another school year looms on the horizon and Appreciation Day for Early Childhood Educators is approaching, I think this is a good time to write this post. I want to appreciate and extend heartfelt gratitude to all early childhood educators but especially to those who reside and practise in my home province of Ontario. As I look back on the decades that I have been part of the early childhood community I am amazed by how the terrain of our professional landscape has changed.
After graduating from university and starting a family, I felt compelled to learn more about early childhood development and found myself taking courses at the same college that I would eventually work at for decades. After I finished the program, I was excited to work at a local child care centre. Slowly but surely, I became passionate about the work and realized that I would always advocate for early childhood education and early childhood educators. At that time, early childhood educator was not a protected title in the province. At the time, our wages did not match our education and training. Recognizing this, the government provided wage enhancement grants. Eventually, advocates worked towards legislative recognition for early childhood educators leading the way to professionalization and the establishment of the College of Early Childhood Educators in Ontario.
As a provincial board member of the AECEO at the time, I remember celebrating the arrival of the CECE. I also recall, someone saying to me … “be careful what you wish for”. Since the establishment of the college, the road hasn’t been easy for the approximately 50,000 members. I keep abreast of the issues by being part of multiple Facebook groups that offer a platform for networking and support. From the issue of membership renewals taking too long, to annual membership fees being raised and the removal of the wallet card used to access retail discounts, there have been complaints. These pale in comparison to the concerns being raised about the continuous professional learning program. It is not that early childhood educators don’t want to continually learn and improve, the issue is trying to navigate the requirements of the CPL program. There is confusion, a lack of clarity and understanding. There are many questions and not so many answers. I believe in my heart of hearts that early childhood educators know that engaging in professional learning will make a difference to the lives of children. In their heart they want the learning but are confused by the process. It is not an easy process to understand nor navigate.
I have read posts from fellow ECEs that speak to the lack of time to fulfill these requirements with young families and part time jobs filling up their days. I have lamented when I read that others feel that workshops and conferences that they would love to attend are out of reach either by distance, cost or time. There is the mistaken impression that to fulfill the requirements of CPL one must attend workshops that are not affordable or accessible. As a proponent of self-directed learning and the power of social media as a professional learning tool, I am hoping that there will be a realization that meaningful learning can happen in non-traditional ways. A few minutes on Facebook and Twitter a day, provides me with professional knowledge, professional connections and opportunities for professional networking. There is a whole group of us who have recognized this non-traditional platform for learning! We are choosing to think positively about the process and look to ways to help others as they navigate the requirements. I believe that the sharing and networking is energizing and taking the time to engage on social media feels more like playing than work. For me it is playing to learn. The energy, satisfaction and knowledge gained from professional learning compensates in a non-monetary way for the wage issues that are faced.
Nearing the end of 2018, wages are still not commensurate to our education and training. Yet, I am constantly impressed with how many ECEs have degrees and post graduate degrees. So many have additional qualifications or are working towards these. I once read about the wage brain mismatch in the world of education but can’t remember the original source. This harkens back to the Montessori quote that leads this post. The educators charged with teaching the learners that have the most capacity to learn make the least. This I hope will change in my lifetime. While the role is now being considered vital in the lifelong learning process, it remains underpaid and undervalued. “Early childhood education is a sector of the educational field to which I feel passionately aligned. I value the place of early childhood educators as the teachers who help lay the foundation for all learning. I see early childhood education as a marginalized sector compared to others on the educational spectrum. I see early childhood educators bearing the burden of a public image that belittles their worth” (Kashin, 2007, p. 150). This quote comes from my doctoral dissertation, written over ten years ago. While the words still ring true, now more than ever, I see early childhood educators hold their heads up high and embrace the image that is most befitting. As How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years reminds us … we should be embracing an elevated view.
Another significant change that has impacted early childhood educators in Ontario in a profound way has been the establishment of full day kindergarten where two professionals, early childhood educators and Ontario certified teachers work in partnership. This too has not been an easy road to navigate and for the thousands of designated early childhood educators (DECEs) working in the school boards, I am proud of the work you do to benefit children, families and our profession. I would also like to extend a special shout out to your teaching partners. So many kindergarten teachers have embraced their teaching partners with open arms, minds and hearts. You are true allies. Over the years, I have had the honour of meeting so many educators who are committed to working with our youngest learners. I can say that no matter where you work whether it be the school boards, family homes, EarlyON programs, college and university labschools or child care centres, you are the heart and the soul of education.