Advocacy, Childhood, Professionalism

Literacy Levels of Educators - Yes, it does matter!

Disclaimer – I love reading, writing, spelling and all things associated with the written word!

Recently I have found myself wondering about the literacy levels in our profession. Countless social media posts and comments have led me to shake my head in disbelief.

“Hi everyone i waz wundering if u can tell me wear pacifically u got that puzzle?”
“Do other educators make children keep there shoes on outside? If they take them off do they loose them?”

These are made up examples based on similar questions/comments I find myself reading almost daily. These are not just typos (which happen to all of us!) or even just shorthand. These are blatant spelling and grammar mistakes and they are extremely prevalent in early childhood forums.

I have had friends share notes, newsletters and even portfolios from their child’s centre with me and have been dismayed by the spelling and grammatical errors in them. The parents have often commented “and these people are educating my child?”

This post is not designed to shame or judge educators and I am well aware that there are brilliant educators out there with low literacy levels or English as a second language. The reason I make this point is that something needs to change. I have seen educators use the wrong “their/they’re/there” on forums and when another educator has pointed it out, there has been calls of “how rude” and “that’s unnecessary” but is it really? Correcting people on their spelling, pronunciation or grammar is often considered condescending, but surely as professionals we can take on some constructive feedback (particularly if it is delivered kindly!) in the way that we do in other areas of our practice? Often I have heard “it doesn’t matter, she is a great educator” but I worry that if we don’t support these educators to improve their skills, we are doing a disservice to our profession and to the children. While in the early childhood environment we do not directly “teach” children to write or spell, the writing that we do is important in this time where literacy skills are emerging.

I find myself wondering how we got here. Some may suggest that it is a result of a reliance on digital technologies and a decline in the handwritten word, but if that were true shouldn’t the spelling and grammar used in notes, newsletters and portfolios be of a higher standard thanks to spellcheck? Is it purely “Facebook laziness”, where people simply don’t care about or pay attention to how or what they type? I wonder if students (both in school and tertiary education environments) are being taught to pass the exam/assessment/practicum as opposed to actually learning and retaining (yes, I realise that there are many amazing schools and tertiary environments!) I have had university students who are unable to differentiate between “their/there/they’re” or ‘your/you’re” and write a full paragraph with no punctuation at all.

Whatever the reason – it needs to change. We need to support educators with low literacy levels to develop their skills to match the professionalism that they show in their practical work with children. We need to ensure that they have access to professional development, training and guidance. How this happens in your service is up to you, but I would suggest that directors review the written work of their educators and if issues are identified, discuss them confidentially and respectfully with the educator and come up with a plan together. Seek out services and resources via the Reading and Writing Hotline.

Let’s stop saying “it doesn’t matter” for fear of offending or upsetting. By raising the literacy levels of educators we will go a long way to raising the status of our profession.

By Nicole Halton

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  • jenny

    I am finding this quite the issue. When we document learning for families, we are not only communicating via the content we choose to share, but also the way in which we share it. Spelling and grammar errors are jarring, especially when they come from the people educating your child! I would love to know what strategies people are using to support their educators, especially in larger settings where directors can have over 20 educators in their team and so many other things vying for their attention?

    January 7, 2016 at 11:15 am
    • kim

      I too would love to hear strategies for this I have 40 staff, many of whom have English as their second language. While I acknowledge they are amazing in the rooms I struggle getting them to understand I’m not being a Nazi I am just trying to empower them to take pride and ownership in what we are sending home…

      January 7, 2016 at 1:18 pm
  • Lynne

    When I have students, I make a point of telling them that as educators they need to be able to spell correctly. Reading their written work is often a “nightmare”, especially students of TAFE.

    January 7, 2016 at 2:21 pm
  • elena

    The funniest thing that people with English as a second language have better literacy level than Australian educators:) When I was working at EC center, many Australian girls write with spelling mistakes and they speak “non-academic language”.My English is a second language. When I came to Australia ,I had to do IELTS academic and assess my overseas qualification. And the requirements are much harder than any testing system here. The problem lies in the quality of education+ many families dont speak British English, they just speak slang. If a person speaks English as ESL, it means he is bilingual.

    January 7, 2016 at 2:28 pm
  • Pam

    How do you help the educators , who work from home ?
    One of my weakest links .

    January 7, 2016 at 5:36 pm
  • Sarah

    I am one of those educators where spelling and grammar has been an ongoing issue. My parents worked with me (did I mention my mother has an English degree), they even enlisted professional help but despite this it is rare that I complete a piece of work that doesn’t include at least one mistake.
    To help with me and others in my centre we do room buddy checks where before a piece of work goes out it is buddy checked. Everyone makes mistakes, some more than others but after the initial emotive response I now love and appreciate the feedback of my team and feel that I wouldn’t go back to a time where it doesn’t happen. Part of this however is the assertion that you are not judging stye. Each teacher has their own unique voice and style as long as it is grammatically correct then you get to keep your voice.

    January 9, 2016 at 9:50 am
  • Lea Powell

    Absolutely, as a degree qualified educator, taking on both a Preschool Room Leader and Educational Leader role in one organisation, I went to gently point this out to a staff member and was told to’ stop bullying Me’, I will not listen, my spelling is a problem and I refuse to deal with it and you are belittling me and my practice by commenting!’ Needless, this person was also supposedly enrolled at UNI. Suffice to say, the whole centre was rife with similar people, also enrolled at UNi, and parents WERE commenting unhappily!!!!!
    I too see regular commentary, of a similar vein, and whilst it is important to understand that different types of text usage have a place, it is also true to know which place and time to use it, as a part of literate knowledge. I believe this also strongly connects to the losing argument around wages. Present professionally get paid professionally, present as less, remain getting paid less.

    January 13, 2016 at 8:20 pm
  • Sarah

    Working in a school, no written information goes home unless it has been checked by admin first. That’s one idea, although not possible with every piece of documentation. I do like the idea of staff checking each other’s work. (I googled how to use that apostrophe.)
    Another idea might be to make up a chart of common mistakes and the corresponding correct spelling or grammar. This could be put up where ever journals etc are written. Or start with a chart of just one word per week. eg. they’re, their, there.

    January 14, 2016 at 12:07 pm
  • Belinda

    Yes! As an Early Childhood Teacher, this frustrates me to no end. How can we ask to be seen as professionals, yet not show professionalism in our written work.
    A missing “i” on one of my sons school reports meant that instead of participating in an anti-bullying program at school, his report stated that he was involved in an ant-bullying program. Neither the teacher or principal who both read through and signed his report after it was typed out by an admin staff picked up on it.

    February 26, 2016 at 6:59 pm
  • Liz

    i came to Australia from UK some 25 years ago. It is my experience taht there is a whole genaration of 30 something young people who suffered under the teaching of “whole language” where the grammar and spelling didnt seem to matter …but the flow and content did. In my current centre where I am director nothing goes out to parents without being checked and I maintain as teachers we set an example in speling and presentation. But Just as I am a spelling and grammar nazi I am teased that I type with 2 fingers and cannot do anything requiring a screwdriver or drill. i am not particularly tidy either but my assistant is. we each have our skills to bring to the centre and I acknowledge that. we support each other

    March 2, 2016 at 7:57 pm
    • Liz

      I have just proofread my post above and had to smile at the typos and errors! That is my point…..I did latin at school not typing! each member of staff has their talents. As long as the documents are proofread before going out to parents that is the main thing. My apologies to all for the typos above ( good job we are among friends!)

      March 2, 2016 at 8:04 pm
  • Tamar

    As someone from an ECE background who is beginning to branch out into providing proofreading and editing services to the ECE sector, I found this blog really pertinent. It’s great to hear that there is awareness within the sector of how important it is to use language which is appropriate and clear and reflects our professionalism. I’m in the process of designing a workshop focused on proofreading learning stories, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the interest it has generated. I’d love to know what other kinds of language support workshops teachers could be interested in. In the meantime if anyone needs a writer, proofreader or editor who has a sound background in ECE, check out my Facebook or Linked in pages – Tamar Weisz-Koves. Cheers!

    March 3, 2016 at 6:16 pm