Teachers that work in the Early Childhood sector of education can be described in many ways. It is these attributes, among many others that an Early childhood teacher needs to be successful in their chosen career path.
Being creative, energetic, enthusiastic, fun, caring, responsive, dedicated, empathetic and, as I personally have had many parents tell me over my years of teaching, “You must have so much patience to do this”! However, having teachers who are all these things and more is not the only ingredient for a quality Early Childhood Centre. The working conditions of these amazing educators is a huge factor in the quality of care and education your child/ren are receiving.
There are many persistent challenges facing early childhood teachers, including high attrition and low staff retention rates, inadequate support in induction and mentoring processes, low social and career prospects and unacceptable levels of teacher burnout. These working conditions have a huge impact on quality in the education setting in a variety of ways such as, a teacher’s ability to build responsive and reciprocal relationships with children, which is so important for the child to feel safe and secure in the environment and therefore confident to explore, engage and learn. The planning and assessment of a quality education programme which responds to children’s ability, developmental level and interests and extends these. A centre’s work with wider professional support networks in the education and health sectors in their support for vulnerable children and children with special needs.
In a recent nationwide survey of 601 teachers, (which, granted is a very small percentage of early childhood teachers in New Zealand) it was found that 25% held reservations about the quality of their centres. The issues raised all came down to the working conditions they were experiencing and lack of support for them as professionals. The main issues included, lack of time to develop relationships with children and their families, insufficient management support, poor teacher to child ratios, long working hours, under-staffing, feeling undervalued and the high risk of emotional and physical burnout.
The quality of early childhood education and care is critically influenced by the quality of teacher working conditions. The issues I have touched on require sustained and critical public debate, including everyone’s voices and informed direction from policy makers. There needs to be a focus on support and communication for teachers so that we all feel welcome to share opinions as a step towards improving what we view as quality for teachers and the children in their care.