Does being a parent really make for a better educator?
“None of them are mums – they have no idea.”
“They are all so young.”
“There’s one great educator – she’s a parent, so she gets it.”
These are some snippets of a conversation that I overheard at the school gate last week. As parents arrived to collect their children from school, one shared their frustration with their other child’s early education and care service. While there is doubt that their concerns were valid and that they ultimately want their child to be happy, settled and well cared for in the service, what stood out to me most was the assertion that the “young” educators were doing a lousy job because they weren’t parents yet. Other parents quickly agreed with this idea, expressing their preference for more “mature” educators who were already parents, suggesting that they were better at their job as a result.
This isn’t the first time that I have overheard this sort of conversation, and I can be certain that it won’t be the last time either. When I began working in early childhood in a full-time position, I was 19 years old. I had just finished my Diploma and was keen to begin really putting into practice, the theory that I had learned. It didn’t take long before I noticed that some parents would talk to me about the “fluff” things (she loved the trucks in the sandpit today) but swiftly seek out an older “mum” educator to talk about the “important stuff”. Was I offended? Nope. Not only was I young and not a parent, but I was also indeed inexperienced. I had done 18months of training, a couple of practicums and a few casual shifts at a local preschool. I was a total newbie.
As time went on I became more confident in my ability as an educator, and in my knowledge and understandings.
When I was 21, I unexpectedly found myself in the position of nominated supervisor. While it was only intended to be a temporary position, I decided that I actually loved it and put my hand up to take it on permanently. The management committee (comprising of parents) discussed this at length and as I found out from them some years later, there was some concern about my age and the fact that I wasn’t yet a parent, and may not, therefore, be able to relate to parents as well as a more mature (parent) educator. Am I glad I didn’t know that they had this conversation at the time? Damn right I am! I would have been outraged! 21 year old me thought that she had the goods. She thought that it didn’t matter that she wasn’t a parent because she understood theories, research, programs and all of the “right” things to be doing with children. Looking back – 21 year old me was probably a little bloody smug! Parents occasionally said things like “you’ll understand when you are a parent”, and I would think – “I already understand.”
I was 24 when I became a mum for the first time. Did I think it would change me as an educator? Not really. Did it change me as an educator? YOU BET! But I don’t think it made me a better educator. I still knew what I knew (well except for the precious information that seems to get eaten up by baby brain – a condition that I hope will subside now my youngest is almost 5!!). But, it did offer me a different perspective. Now, when a parent was having difficulty separating with their child in the morning, I wasn’t just looking for the best solution for the child, I was thinking about how hard it feels for that parent who is leaving their child in the care of virtual strangers, crying and unsettled. Even now, being a parent has an impact on my work as a consultant. When I visit an early childhood service to observe practice, I find myself constantly thinking about whether that way of speaking or engaging with the child is how I would want my child to be cared for.
But back to the conversation that sparked this train of thought (I promise I am getting to a point!)
There does seem to be an assumption that being a parent or even just being older makes for a better educator. I have worked with and visited educators who range in age from 18 to 60+ and have seen non-parent educators who are insightful, connected, perceptive and provide the most nurturing, high-quality care for children. I have also experienced educators who are in fact parents, and yet their practice is poor, their patience low, their enthusiasm for their work lacking. I guess the point I am trying to make is that it isn’t as simple as parent = better educator. And while some families attending your service may feel comforted to know that there are educators who are there that have been through exactly what they are going through, it is most important that we have educators who are committed to ongoing development, who have the rights of the child at the forefront, and whose practice is infused with love and connection.
Becoming a parent certainly changed me as an educator – but so have years of experience, and attendance at conferences, as well as opportunities to read, research and learn.
And, next time I overhear this conversation I’ll be joining in. I will suggest that perhaps these educators aren’t “lousy” because they are young and not parents, but perhaps the parent expectations and service practice are misaligned, or perhaps they could spend some time in the service (we all know that the 10mins at drop off and pick up are not the best representation of the whole day) or perhaps they are just not cut out to be educators – I hate to say it, but there are some people in our profession who don’t appear to enjoy it or have a real desire to grow and be better for children (and if you know one of these people – a gentle nudge to another career is always a nice idea!)
What do you think? Have you experienced this in your work? Has becoming a parent changed you as an educator? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!