Who am I if not an early childhood educator? This was a question I thought about over the months that I contemplated if it was the right time for me to change career paths. Who am I? I am a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student, a volunteer. But the thought of not connecting my role in the world and my community as an early childhood educator felt hollow. After all, I had begun my studies in early childhood education when I was still in high school. For the last twelve years of my life, my job title has been Early Childhood Educator. If it is true that the cells in our bodies are replaced every seven years, then I am through and through an early childhood educator. So who am I if not an early childhood educator?
In January, I paced the lobby of a band office. I had arrived five minutes early and had been pacing, looking at the flyers and posters displayed around the lobby, and making small talk with the people who passed by. In all honesty, I was so nervous I could barely read the posters, but I tried my best to put my nerves aside and look put together as I waited to be called in for my first interview in over six years. I felt my stomach turn and was worried that I would be so nervous that I would actually be sick. This was the first time ever that I had felt nervous about an interview, but also the first time in twelve years that I was not walking into an interview that I could confidently introduce myself as an early childhood educator for a position with the title of early childhood educator. Instead, this time I was leaping into the unknown and applying for a position as a Youth Initiatives Supervisor.
My world has been about fresh tiny people having their first experience in childcare – learning attachment to new caregivers. It was toddlers painting the paper, the table, the chair, and sometimes the walls all the way to the bathroom where they washed their hands. Diapers. Need I say more? My world was about celebrating social successes and budding friendships. It was saying good-byes to children as they headed to the next chapter of their lives, whether it be kindergarten, welcoming new babies, or moving to a new town. My world (and my role in it) was clearly defined for a long time. Like many others early childhood educators I have spoken with, for a long time I wondered what I would do if I ever left childcare.
When I sat in my interview, the HR person flipped through my resume and asked, “Am I missing a page of your resume?” My resume had been full of the last twelve years of my work which all related to working as an early childhood educator. When I was asked questions specific to working with youth I was pulling from my very early work experience from when I was still a youth myself, working as a youth worker and summer camp leader in my teens. In fact, when I was in grade 12 and starting the ECE program as a duel credit program with the school district of Langley my heart was set on working with youth in recreation, but then I fell in love with working with the under fives . . . and the rest is history.
I pulled out a book that I had made the week before. It is a professional portfolio. It created the opportunity to talk about my skills rather than my title. For twelve years I was an early childhood educator as my profession, but I brought love, creativity, commitment, passion, innovation, vulnerability, bravery and emotional intelligence to my work. Through my role as an early childhood educator I have developed strength, patience, and trust that will come in handy when a difficult stage of development comes up. I have learned how to be a safe hug on a bad day, how to have difficult conversations, and how to set boundaries. In being self employed I have learned to be self-reliant, to manage a business, and to work like I had never worked before even with always having a strong work ethic.
When I accepted my new role (the title has now changed to Child and Youth Initiatives Supervisor), I was told that I was hired for my heart. You can’t go to school for heart, it’s something that you need to develop and I credit my years in early childhood education for growing my heart to what it is today.
But I feel that it would be cutting this blog post too short to simply end this story here. Yes, my work in the field of ECE gave me skills and grew my heart, but I also took other steps to prepare for this change even before I realized that I wanted to make a transition. I think that the first step was actually when I felt most tied and committed to early childhood education and wanted to grow my business to a facility outside of my home. Beyond my closest friends most people don’t know that I tried to expand my business three years ago by attempting to apply for a grant with the BC Provincial Government that was worth up to $250,000. I worked towards completing this grant when my daughter was only three months old and I had already been back to working 50 hours a week since she was six weeks old. To be honest, the process of trying to write the grant destroyed me. I had never worked so hard for something that did not have a positive outcome. As the weeks drew closer to the deadline and my attempts to meet the strict criteria fell through with potential community organizations, I fell flat on my face and did not get to the point of submitting.
The silver lining in this story of apparent failure is that in applying for this grant I wanted to demonstrate that I had the skills and ability both through experience of running my business and through some degree of education to be a worthy candidate. As I did not have a business education when I learned about the grant, I enrolled in business courses at BCIT to try to complete a statement of completion in small business development. By the time that the grant application attempt had failed, I had completed two proper three credit course in entrepreneurship and marketing and was half way through a human resources course. I had also started a course in grant writing where I learned that my instructor, a seasoned well-established grant writer, had been asked by an organization to write a grant for the same application that I had not been successful in completing and she had declined the job because of the extreme difficulty of the grant.
As I picked myself up after feeling a hardship and bruised ego for not being able to complete the grant, what I leaned into was a new found love for school. Before going back to school I thought that I would be an ECE lifer. I was a damn good early childhood educator with a successful program that had a great reputation. I am an advocate for the early years and I love early childhood education. What I learned though, at risk of sounding arrogant and cocky, is that I am also a savvy business person, a strong servant leader, a passionate adult educator and I am also kicking butt as a straight A+ student in the Community Care Licensing Officer Program. I’m also confident that when I take on my next step and apply for a MA of Leadership program, which has been my educational dream that I have been working for over the last three years, that I will be awesome at that too.
I have heard fellow child care providers say that they can’t imagine being anything other than an early childhood educator. If that is because your heart and passion is so deeply connected to early childhood education that it completely fulfills you and feeds your soul, then you keep rocking early childhood education. If, on the other hand, you have been an ECE and your heart longs for change and a new challenge, I hope that this blog shares how versatile and powerful your skills are and that the world is your oyster. I may not work as an early childhood educator anymore, but I am an early childhood educator and I know this because my heart grew from loving the children and families I worked with for twelve years. I bring with me the learning and love from years in early childhood education to serve the team, community, and children of my new workplace.
You may also be wondering how the families felt when I told them that I was closing my daycare. They were a little bit sad, but the support and encouragement I got from them blew me out of the water and gave me the confidence that I am taking the right step. Do I miss little painty hands? Yes. But I am also excited to shape programs, lead staff and youth, work on an amazing welcoming team, and collaborate with professionals from school councillors to biologists. I also am commitment to keeping ties to the ECE community through teaching child care providers and continue advocating for the early years. My new work will give me a new perspective to share with the ECE community about child development.