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People keep telling her she should retrain, but Dunedin Early Childhood Education (ECE) teacher Shannon says she doesn’t want to do anything else — she just wants to be paid a reasonable wage.
I'm an ECE teacher and I love my job. My mum's an accountant and she often tells me I might need to forgo my passion, and just put myself first. I've had primary teachers say "why don't you work in a kindergarten'' or "why don't you come and teach new entrants, that'll increase your pay''. And I say "yeah, but it won't fix our problem''. Because our problem is a system that devalues the work of ECE educators.
We don't get into teaching for the pay. But when ECE services don't get adequate funding for more than a decade, it makes it hard for teachers to stay. I know a lot of amazing teachers we've lost to the profession because they couldn't afford to stay any longer.
I've got a bachelor's degree in education as well as a further year's study specialising in infants and toddlers, and I have nearly eight years' experience. But I know people working in retail who are paid more than me.
I don't want to do anything else, and I don't think I should have to. It's not fair to our children if they miss out just because there's this widespread misconception that the younger the age group, the less important their teachers are. Research has proven that the first 1000 days of life are the most critical for children in defining their future. Yet people still don't seem to understand this or how important early childhood education really is, and therefore what a vital role ECE teachers play in their communities.
As an infant and toddler teacher, there's a misconception that we sit and cuddle babies all day, but there's a lot more to it. Working with this age group means frequent health and safety checks, being attuned to them, responding to their needs.
We do a lot of intentional teaching through our environment: we observe the children while pottering around in the background, setting up things and manipulating the environment to see how they'll use it. We utilise a variety of teaching strategies to add complexity to their explorations and learning.
We do planning throughout the day, through conversations and in non-contact time, and we also have fortnightly evening planning meetings. Each child has an individual plan, and we write regular learning narratives about it. Our centre also has an overall area of focus we'll work on regularly together throughout the year.
We also conduct regular internal evaluations, complete frequent teacher reflections, and have our own individual teacher inquiries linked to our yearly appraisals. For all teachers there are the ongoing requirements of registration to meet, which are pretty substantial.
ECE teachers have exactly the same qualifications as our kindergarten teacher counterparts and the same registration, evaluation and reporting obligations but we're paid on average 23% less. Next year the gap will be nearly 50% for some.
It makes it hard to advocate for your profession when people don't see you as a professional because you don't have the same conditions as fellow teachers. It's also really undermining to have people constantly tell you to go and teach at school, or just leave teaching altogether.
I love the energy you get from working with young children, and the excitement they have when they learn something new which is every day and when they achieve something and they get to share that joy with you.
I think ECE makes a huge difference to the way children view themselves and their society. We facilitate and support them as they develop the skills to overcome the big challenges in life, start to see themselves as competent learners, and learn to get along with a diverse range of people. We also provide a supportive community and network for our parents.
I would love teachers to come together and acknowledge that we're all teachers and we're all important, and it doesn't matter if you're in a kindergarten or a community-based or private centre: we're all here for the children, regardless of their age.
It's vital for the future of our education sector that the Government steps up and fixes this gap in education. If we teachers are held accountable to the same Code and Standards of the teaching profession, the Government should be held accountable to pay us the same. That's the only way to ensure we get high quality teachers for our children, all of our children.
I'd urge all teachers - including our kindergarten, primary, and high school colleagues - to go to ECEVoice.org.nz and vote for an immediate pay jolt for ECE teachers and a stepped-out pay plan from the government to permanently fix the pay gap.
- Shannon's surname was withheld at her request to protect the identity of the centre where she works.