Many years ago, straight from college and failing to find a teaching opportunity in my locality, I accepted a job leading a play scheme. This was a new concept at the time, the first after-school and holiday club in my town. I learned a lot. I learned that play doesn’t need to have an end product in mind, I learned the importance of open-ended materials and space, I learned how to work with parents and the huge responsibility of being in charge of somebody else’s child. Through play work I learned that I loved working with the youngest children in a play-based environment. I no longer looked for teaching posts with 7-11 year olds but volunteered at a local nursery school to learn the trade of being an early years teacher.
As a young aspiring teacher, I was never proud of my title – play worker. I was always sure to let people know that I was actually a qualified teacher, that I had been to university for four years and wasn’t just a child care worker. When I got my first teaching post, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Stuck in a classroom of five and six-year olds with nothing to play with apart from a pack of modelling clay, I was quickly disillusioned.
My next job, in a nursery was very different. I worked with a team of teachers and nursery nurses who bounced ideas off one other, who valued play, who cared that the kids were happy and were passionate that teaching was far more than imparting knowledge. I watched, I listened and I learned. One of my colleagues was wonderful with the children and the parents loved her but she didn’t have a single child-care qualification. I quickly learned that having a teaching qualification didn’t make me better than those less qualified ; we could all learn from one another and had our own contribution to make.
Teacher Tom’s post, I’m Not Sure That’s Teaching ,reminded me of this. Tom questions the meaning of the word teacher and whether or not those who follow the children’s interests, supporting them as they go, are teachers as most people perceive them.
Peter Moss describes Loris Malaguzzi’s role in the schools of Reggio Emilia, as an educational leader whose role was
Not to tell others what to do, not to lead a pliant following wherever he chose – it was to create and evolve an educational project in his city, but always in relation with others and in a spirit of participation and co-operation
I’m currently reading a selection of Loris Malaguzzi’s writings and speeches. The rise of the preschools in Reggio Emilia as a reaction to education built on pre-determined knowledge imparted bit by bit, seems to ring truer today than it ever has.
Labels are complicated and to this day I’m not really sure what I’d prefer to be called. A teacher? educator? play worker? early childhood professional? I’m not sure any of them are quite right. Perhaps that is why I often struggle for a title when people ask me what I do.
Most of the children I have worked with in my career have called me Rachel. Not teacher Rachel, Miss Rachel or Mrs McClary but simply Rachel. Perhaps titles don’t matter that much after all.