An open letter to hardworking educators

By Jessica Annerley

Dear Educator,

There are some things I need to tell you, I need you to understand.....

When I scream and cry I need you. I need you to understand and connect with me. I need your unhurried hands and gentle words. I need to feel as though you care and genuinely know me.

When I bite my peers or scratch them, I need you to understand that I don't have the words to say "they're too close to me",  "I'm scared", "I need some space", or "give me something to chew". I need you to provide me with opportunities to have space when I need it. I need to be allowed the freedom of outside. Frequently. I need you to plan more developmentally appropriate intentional teaching moments where I'm not forced to sit in close proximity with 10 other children for a 'group time'. I need you to understand how children, toddlers in particular, learn.

I need you to understand that YOU are the stranger changing my "stinky poo", and I need respect and kindness from you. I need you to help me feel like my bowel motions are not offensive to you or abnormal. I need you to help me be confident and proud of my body, not ashamed by the smells I have no control over.

I need you to understand that when I'm taking my belongings and 'posting' them in bookshelves or cupboards, that's the real learning. That's my brain growing and pruning right in front of you. I need you to plan for this and give me more and more opportunities for this schematic play.

When my parent "screams" at you, I need you to ask them if they are ok? I need you to say that you can see they're stressed, and ask what help they might need. You might not be able to offer that help, but perhaps you know of a community clinic or support group or something that could help my parent keep cool, calm and collected in what appears to you to be situations of minor irritation.

I need you to see my diet not of inconvenience, but that of my families culture, our way of being. I need you to embrace this and use this difference as an opportunity for learning, learning about cultural differences and celebrating these.

When my Mum calls to ask what I have eaten, I need you to understand that she does not do this to be a burden to you. The fact is she feels terribly worried about me because my appetite has reduced a lot lately, and my weight has been dropping too. I need you to understand that the doctor told my mum that if I don't begin to eat 'normally' again, they would have to refer me to a specialist. My Mum is anxious about this ALL THE TIME. She is scared something is wrong, she is scared she is being judged, she is scared she is failing as a parent. She is scared she is a burden to you calling everyday, but she is so anxious she can't concentrate on her work until she does. She apologises for all the calls, she really is sorry. I need you to understand that that phone call helps my Mum get through her day when she has to be away from me, you see she would much rather be at home sharing lunch with me herself.

I need you to have a better understanding of how I learn, and what the real expectations of your curriculum framework are. I need you to know that you do not need to plan for and document every child's individual 'activities' every day. I need you to know that like most Toddlers, I can learn from and with my peers, and share similar interests. I need you to work smarter not harder when it comes to documentation. Being with me should be the priority.

I need you to advocate for your rights as an employee because by being respected as an educator you might stick around in this sector longer. That's good for me, I need consistency, I need familiar educators who know me and help me belong. When your employer gives you the list of mandatory out of hours training dates and topics for the year, I need you to tell your employer what training you really need. I need you to know how to keep me safe, but also how I learn, how to guide and teach me, how to work with and support families and also how you can keep yourself safe and well. I also need you to ask your employer for educator wellbeing training and other such opportunities to  avoid educator burnout. I need you to tell your employer that it is illegal to mandate staff meetings or training and then not pay you, at overtime rates, for your attendance. I need you to tell your employer that they could hire professional cleaners. I need you to speak up and say that this is not your job. I need you to be WITH me, not fulfilling what could be the job of the after hours, professional cleaners. I need you to properly understand that there is no law or regulation that states you must document for an hour each and every day. I need you to tell your employer they need to adequately resource the centre. I don't need much 'stuff' to learn, but if you do need to buy stuff, that is the job of your employer. I need you to investigate alternative ideas, innovate and join your union, and seek advice and support from them. I need you to be an advocate for yourself and your sector. I need you to speak out about these unjust practices. I need you to speak up to your employer because this time is much better spent connecting with ME!

I need you, remember I am only two years old. I need you to engage with and play with me and help me play with my peers. I need you to know me. I need you to advocate for yourself, because when you do you advocate for me.

I am only two years old, I need a professional early childhood education and care workforce. I need you..... 

About the author:
Jessica Annerley is the CEO of a non-profit community organisation in the ACT and Director of the organisation's 72 place early childhood education and care centre.
Jessica has been working in the education and care sector for 16 years, in school age care, long day care and tertiary education, (teaching preservice educators).
Jessica is passionate and dedicated to providing genuine support for families as part of an educators role in early childhood education and care services, respectful caregiving for children, (particularly in infant and toddler programs), and advocacy for educators in what is an underpaid and largely under valued sector.

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