Since becoming an early childhood professional in 2009, I’ve held many titles: teacher, head teacher, center supervisor, data entry specialist and a couple others. A title I currently have is “Adjunct Faculty” at a community college (a.k.a. Early Childhood College Professor).
During my current semester, I was giving a lecture about advocating for children and preschool. I shared with my students that preschool is incredibly important and is a critical time in that impacts children’s future potential. As I was talking, I mentioned a lot of topics and ideas, with a tone that communicated the seriousness of preschool.
All of my students are preparing to become early childhood professionals, so it’s almost like preaching to the choir. However, during my lecture, one of my students was processing thoughts. Finally, she asked me, “Why do you do what you do?”
When she posed the question, I thought that, by that point, I had laid out a solid argument about the gravity of preschool education. But her question was beyond that. Apparently, the conviction in my voice is what she was processing, trying to understand, “Why so serious?”
In one form or another, I have been asked this same question again and again. Why am I working in early childhood? How did you get started? How did you end up here? Why are you not pursuing another profession or career?
Now, I don’t remember what I said next – not exactly. However, since I’ve been asked the question so many times, I’ve evolved a default opening response. So, when I answered my student’s question, I know it went something like this:
“I didn’t choose early childhood,” I started. “In the beginning, 2009, I thought it was a mistake. I joined a teaching program and said I wanted elementary and middle school, but I was placed in early childhood. It took some time to process my feelings about my placement, but I realized I was presented with an opportunity to make a difference – to work in an early childhood classroom as a preschool teacher. I took it.”
“I started my early childhood career in San Francisco as a preschool teacher. I didn’t know anything about early childhood, besides that it was ‘glorified baby-sitting’. But, as I continued to teach and interact with families and the community, ‘baby-sitting’ found its way out of my vocabulary.”
“However, I do want to be transparent. Many times I’ve tried to leave. I wanted to start a new career. One that paid better, had a higher career path, or just had less turnover and stress. But I’ve been part of this field in one capacity or another since 2009.”
“Between 2000 through 2009, I worked as an after school tutor, substitute teacher, and technology specialist for elementary and middle schools. As time has passed, I came to a realization that early childhood allowed me to do things that I could not do at the K-12 level. Furthermore, I’ve come to appreciate those differences, which I view as opportunities.”
“First, the level of interaction I get with parents and families is better at this level than at any other. Second, the impact I can have with a 3, 4, or 5 year old is the most profound and life altering than at any other age. Third, early childhood promotes creativity and I found that preschool allowed me to be the most creative teacher I could be.”
Okay reader, let’s pause for a moment. To this point, these words could easily have been meshed with other responses I’ve given in the past. Generally though, this is the same accoutrement of information I include in my response to a question I’ve been repeatedly asked. However, despite the various avenues I can take to begin my response, somewhere toward the middle, my response always converges down to one road. It’s the underlying reason why I do anything at all.
This part, I know – verbatim – is what I said to my class. Because this part is exactly how I feel. It goes like this:
“I want to do good,” I said to the class, who at this point in my speech, were staring at me and sitting still. “I want to help people. If I wasn’t teaching, I would have been a doctor, fire fighter, or some other professional where I can help people.”
“As an early childhood professional, I’m able to help children, families, and communities. I’m able to positively impact them. And, today, I work with you,” I said, as I looked at all the students in my class. “I know that I can share my stories, my experiences, and my best practices to you and then you can go and positively impact your students, your families, and your communities. That’s why I do what I do.”
“I need you to succeed,” I thought to myself. That part didn’t come out, but that’s how I wanted them to feel. “I’m sharing my good with you so you can go out and do good.”
“Wow,” whispered one student in a hushed voice.
In that moment, my speech was done. I started regaining my senses. When did I lose them? Although I didn’t feel different, there was a sense I was coming back to the present and transitioning out of a tranced state of mind.
“Alright,” as I physically looked down at the floor to mentally reground myself in the present moment. “I’ll get off my soap box.”
“Thank you,” said the student who asked the question that triggered the whole speech.
I took a deep breath as I walked back to my podium. Telling the story actually had a physical expenditure. My mouth was dry and I felt my muscles relaxing.
“I need you to succeed,” I thought, as I prepared to continue the planned presentation. “I believe you can do good because, if you understand what early childhood professionals understand, you’ll want to do good.”
Moral of the Story: Go out there and succeed.