This blog offers an abbreviated transcript of my panel talk at the #ACareerInEarlyYears event I was invited to speak at. I spoke for the need of a highly qualified profession, critically attuned to the challenges we face in wider society today. Thank you to Early Years Scotland for the invitation.
My name is Shaddai, I am first year PhD student at the University of the West of Scotland, having recently moved up from Bristol.
I am a former Early Years Practitioner and Family Support worker in a number of nurseries and children’s centres.
I really want to share with you my story of how I got into early years and emphasize why I stayed in a profession with:
- High financial insecurity.
- A significant lack of diversity.
- No one to talk about football with(!).
So today I thought I could use my time to talk about gender, about the need for more men in early years, or I could talk about race, the lack of Black educators within the profession – but I want to really focus on the value of education, and indirectly relate to both those things.
I didn’t begin my career in Early Years, I had hoped to go straight into university.
However, I failed my AS Levels at college when I was 16, dropped out and found myself applying for apprenticeships in catering and childcare.
After a two week crash course working with children, I was on my first day as a Practitioner in a tiny setting in Bristol. The next few years are a bit of a blur – I was thrown straight into the deep end and was loving it!
Spending my days being creative, walks to the local park and train stations, supporting emotional development, physical play and reading The Hungry Caterpillar was so much fun and gave me an appetite to cement a career in the Early Years.
Interestingly, my first nursery was balanced in terms of men and women, it wasn’t until I moved on to a large nursery with 50 other members of staff that I began to suspect something was up.
Around this time I had gained my NVQ level 2 and 3, and started my foundation degree in early years education.
Looking back, if I did not have the opportunity to carry out my further education alongside working in the early years – I would not be where I am now.
A level three (entry level) qualification was not enough for me – I found myself questioning my everyday practice with children and seeking to do the job justice.
I don’t believe I would have had the chance to understand the debate around gender in early years – do we need men in because they are fundamentally different to women? Or should we be aiming for a discourse of gender flexibility?
I don’t believe I would have had the chance to talk about race and racism in early years, which, as I discovered throughout my research is routinely silenced through rhetoric on equality and inclusion.
Children are not colorblind to race, and we need a profession that better reflects the diversity we see every day in wider society.
To those of you here that want to work in the early years, I want to emphasize the value of working with young children as a career, and not simply a job.
I believe, as Paolo Freire once said, the educator is never neutral, they play a critical role in contributing towards a curriculum that address social justice head on.
I want to see a future where Early Years educators are paid fairly, educated to degree level as standard, and attuned to the ever changing needs of society.