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The Tip of the Iceberg

Date: February 2, 2015 Author: hpelc Categories: Educators Blog

By Moniqui McAuley

Last week after arriving home from work, I did my usual scroll through social media and a quick browse on the Internet, reading through a couple of articles in an effort to wind down: a typical afternoon. However, that afternoon would soon prove to become more than just normal routine, which was all due to one article that I read. This article really hit a soft spot of mine, resulting in tears welling up in the corner of my eyes. The article I read was about ‘that kid’. You have all heard about ‘that kid’. You may have had one in your class as you went through school, you may be concerned that your own child could be ‘that kid’. ‘That kid’ is usually the one (or two, or several) that were lost, often finding it difficult to find their way through the different stages of the day without some form of guidance. As I quickly wiped my tears away, I began to reflect on the many years I have spent working in Early Childhood Education and how this article rang true for many of those moments I have had encountering a group with ‘that kid’.

 

In my early days of entering the Early Childhood Education industry, (an 18 year old, year 12 graduate undertaking my traineeship to become a certificate three educator), I would often have conversations with my mentor, part of my normal routine as a trainee. These conversations ranged from questions about programming, observations and of course about working with the difficult behaviour that was present in the group. I often asked how she managed the difficult behaviour; managed the class; and still had a smile on her face and enjoyed being with the children. My initial comments were along the lines of, “I don’t know how you do it. You have the patience of a saint! I don’t know if I could ever be like that.”

Her simple reply to me, “You just have too,” never really meant a great deal to me other than just get through each day when you have ‘that kid’: just survive. This interpretation of her reply has stayed with me and for the first couple of years being an early childhood educator, leading a group of young children to me was about survival. To survive and get through each day with ‘those kids’.

 

It was not until recent years that her comment really made sense to me and really hit home. “You just have to” was not just about surviving the day and it travelled so much deeper than that. It was about breaking through to ‘those kids’ in the group. It is about delving deeper: looking beyond the tip of the iceberg and discovering what it is that is beneath the surface. There is so much more than meets the eye and it is ‘those kids’ that truly need us: parents, families, teachers and educators the most. They are the ones that are having difficulty forming a trusting, respectful and reciprocal relationship with people, unable to let them in without putting up a fight. All behaviours exhibited by a person are intentional, and at times can certainly be unfavourable. But what does this behaviour mean? It can be as simple as a call for help, it is just in a way that people do not completely understand or recognise until a bond is established, which is why in early childhood education, bonds between children and families are essential (Dolby, 2007). It is up to us to support ‘those kids’ families through these moments of difficulty, help them see the other side where they are viewed as strong, independent, capable people that have a voice that expresses their ideals and values and that most importantly, that they are respected (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009).

 

I have had the opportunity to see countless teaching styles over the years and have encountered many of ‘those kids’. When working with ‘those kids’, the strategies that have worked for some educators, certainly has not worked for others. I have heard educators yelling and shouting at the children to comply, which always made me shudder – I know I did not respond well if someone yelled at me, so why would the children respond in the way the educator wanted them too? Or why should they show the demanded respect? If that educator was yelling at me, the first thing I would do would be to lose respect for that person and I certainly would be thinking twice about what it was they wanted me to do, but I do not think I would comply.

 

Something that I have witnessed and been involved in over the years involves settling a child into an environment that they are not yet completely familiar with. Something that has never really made sense to me has been educators’ dismissive behaviour of a child’s emotional state. So what about ‘those kids’ that are entering new early childhood education and care environments, where they are still developing their trust and bonds with their educators? Do they deserve the same attention that a child exhibiting violent behaviour does? Of course they do! The way we approach the behaviour differs, but they deserve our attention just as much. Often I have heard educators say “You are okay” to ‘those kids’ that are sad. Who are we to say, “You are okay”, when it is clear that they are not okay? I rarely say this to children in my care if they are having a hard time separating from their parents and families because it is obvious to everyone, especially the child that they are not okay. Instead, I acknowledge their feelings by saying, “I understand you are sad and it is okay to feel that way. Everyone feels sad sometimes. I’m feeling sad seeing you sad, but I am here to help you when you are ready.” If they are having a difficult time joining play or having difficulty joining a group time, I make every attempt to help them through, finding the right words to understand their feelings. I feel that if I was not emotionally available for ‘those kids’ that I would completely miss such a crucial opportunity to be with these children at these moments: moments where growth occurs.

 

However, these moments need someone to be there, to really be there for the child holistically and to do that in an environment where there are 30 children under the age of five years in one group is near impossible. So how are the educators at services where there are large classes coping with ‘those kids’? The answer is simple – they rarely are coping with them and ‘those kids’ are often the ones pushed to the side or forgotten about. I speak from experience, as I have stood as an educator in a large environment where the feeling of being left behind in your work is overwhelming, so much so that you do not get the chance to really know ‘those kids’. These little people are our future. We cannot afford to push them to the side or forget about them because we have not had the chance to get to know them as an individual. I pose a question: what would our country be like in 30 years if we forgot about all ‘those kids’? How would our future leaders take care of the following generations and then the generations following that?

 

As an educator that has been in numerous settings, in Australia and the United Kingdom, all with different ideals and approaches, I strongly believe that small environments or environments with higher educator to child ratios are the most beneficial for young children. I strongly believe that here at Handprints, we have the environment where we can support all children so that we do not have a child with the label of ‘that kid’ as they go through growth and change, something that is in abundance from birth to five years. We have an environment where the educators know all of the children, and I mean truly know them as individuals through the bonds that we form. Through the formation of these bonds where we can truly know these children, we are empowered which enables us to provide all children with a positive learning environment where learning is fun and tailored to the individual, which inevitably will assist them as they make their way toward the next big step in their lives: transitioning to formal schooling. Let us continue to work together in partnership so we can eliminate the label of ‘that kid’ so we can make their early education experience a positive one that will remain with our children for the rest of their lives.

 

The article that I read that inspired this blog entry can be found here:

http://lemonlimeadventures.com/what-you-dont-know-about-that-kid/

http://lemonlimeadventures.com/letter-teacher-kid-difficult-behavior/

 

Reference List

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. (2009). Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. Barton, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.

 

Dolby, R. (2007). The circle of security: Roadmap to building supportive relationships. Research in practice series, 14(4). Canberra: Early Childhood Australia.