Journals from the Atelier

That’s What Little Boys Are Made of…

Zooming in, Zooming out. From the personal to the public. From our cells to the universe. From the micro to the macro. Zooming in to capture the minute details of what we see, hear, touch, taste. Zooming out to create the whole picture again and to connect the practice to the theory, children to the world. 

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

 

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At our recent All Staff Meeting, one of our teachers shared an inspiring story. The child pictured above had been helping to build fairy houses out in the yard. The teacher, Alisha, expected the fairy houses to be used by tiny imaginary fairies. But when this child was done helping to build the house, they climbed right up and got in, and became the fairy. Or perhaps there was no process of becoming; perhaps they simply are the fairy.

Alisha then shared feelings of gratitude for being in the societal and professional role of preschool teacher. As people who work with young children, we are honored to be surrounded by those who are sensorially present, and who experience the world with immediacy. Unlike adulting, wherein people who were once children (and perhaps still are) feign to be separate from, other than, the world. Unlike adulting, wherein we get busy, distracted, and detached from wonder.

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In terms of the challenges of our year, we also touched on the challenging parts of viewing our work with children through an Anti-Bias lens. Laurie spoke about children who have behavior that feels challenging to the teacher. The anxiety of coming at a relationship with a child from this viewpoint: Something is wrong. I must fix it. Many times when we work with children who have behavior that we feel as challenging, it is easy to slip into this space of anxiety, which sometimes (without us being aware) creates psychological walls between us and the children.

Laurie spoke of how she found that she needed not to fix this child, but to expand her own capacity to see this child. Megan, referring to the same child, shared an experience of helping not only the child with challenges learn ways to adapt to the group; but also helping the group learn different ways to interact with and adapt to this child. Angel Kyodo Williams says that “Love is space. It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are.” What a mind-bending realization this is as a teacher and learner- to accept that our own limitations are part of the equation.  Thank you children for teaching us how to be present on this level.  This is the work.

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While we are on the subject of capabilities and expansion… It is also challenging to see and intuit the connections between anti-bias, the natural world, and art/expression. Especially with this young age group, it can be difficult, as Jackie said, to zoom in to the idea of anti-bias, after we have offered or accompanied certain experiences. For example, once we notice eye color, hair color, skin tone difference with kids, where do we go from there? How do we zoom in? How do we have the conversations with kids about linking our explorations with color and rainbows to conversations about skin tone?

There is difference all around us. There is connection between everything. The choice is to open up the possibilities within ourselves, and to see these connections, and to rejoice in them with the children. A flower is a flower is a flower… Or is it? Boys and puppy dog tails? Girls and sugar and spice?  The binary of boys versus girls? All of these stereotypes are being teased apart in our world right now. And by engaging with art, we notice the world. By looking at the world, we form a relationship to it. Look closely with children and we are doing the work. Looking closely is the work. Again and again and again.

I became really curious about the idea of stereotype while in Reggio Emilia. Nature literally holds a world of diversity and variety inside of it. People who study science are still discovering new species and there continues to be a rabbit hole of what is possible when we look inside of living things. Nature is a teacher just like children.

Why is it that we become so tight and controlled in our culture? What are ways that we can unravel this dictate and move forward towards more present life? What are the ways that you remember what matters? How do you stay present and sensate?  What are the ways that we can collectively resist the pressure to remain closed, unseeing, senseless?

Make art. Make music. Play. Breath in the scent of your children. Ride a bike. Forgive someone. Forgive yourself. Make more space. Allow more time. Choose to not care about time once per week. See another person’s eye colors- their real eye colors! Mix some paint to match it. Walk more slowly. Use your bones instead of your muscles. Let yourself make decisions in the moment. Paint. Draw. Sing. Pet a dog. Strike up a conversation with an elderly person. Listen to a child. Like really listen. Sit still for 20 minutes without doing anything. Get inside a fairy house. Be the fairy.

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We are nature. In all it’s complexity. So we don’t have to look far to understand how to connect the experience of being alive, with anti-bias work. By settling ourselves in for the long haul, we resist the temptation to give in to the dominant view that things need to happen instantaneously. By allowing ourselves time, we resist the idea that there is not enough. By accepting ourselves as we are, we create space for others to be who they are as well.

 

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Connection to nature is power. Real power. Shared power. Collective power. When we can follow children, and support their knowledge and learning, then we might see the world with them, through their connected eyes.  When we look closely, we see life, we see connection, we see beauty and it’s importance in the world, and we want to protect it.

This is what we are teaching.

Zooming in, Zooming out. From the personal to the public. From our cells to the universe. From the micro to the macro. Zooming in to capture the minute details of what we see, hear, touch, taste. Zooming out to create the whole picture again and to connect the practice to the theory, children to the world.

This is the work.

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Teacher Profile #5: Susan Eisman

I would like to create social change so that children’s experiences are truly valued, their parents and teachers are better supported to fully meet children’s needs, and a social justice curriculum is embraced nationwide. I would like to teach differently from the beginning.  

Hometown:  Calabasas, CA

Current Location:  Portland, OR

Job Title:  Director & Children’s Teacher at the Hawthorne Family Playschool

Degrees/Education:  BA in Women’s Studies & Art;  MA coursework in Human Development, emphasis on Early Childhood and Anti-Bias Education; 16 years experience in Re-evaluation Counseling.

Age: 50

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How long have you been working with young children?

28 years.

Do you have your own children?

Yes, I’ve been the not-so-evil-stepmom to Gus (18) and Eliot (16) for the past 11 years.

What was the impetus for you to first work with young children Professionally?

I have been drawn to young children as long as I can remember. I like children’s honesty, exuberance and the ways in which they fully show up to play, express, and explore. As a high school student, I sought summer jobs with children because I thought they would be fun. I quickly learned there is a lot going on with each developing human being and that working with children affords a variety to each given day. I have kept with it because it brings me joy, meaning and hope.

Is this your calling? If not, why do you do it?

I find the idea of “calling” a bit intimidating. I guess if I were to name my “calling,” it would be to do human liberation work– to help create meaningful, lasting change that supports human connectivity and challenges oppression.

I’m saddened by the ways systematic white supremacy, male domination and capitalism play out. I want to plug into the ways I can counter these dehumanizing and destructive forces that separate people from each other and teach us lies about each other.  I would like to help to create spaces in which we revere play, nourish children’s authentic ways of being, and teach the building blocks of successful social interaction including combating biases early and nourishing all children’s identities as whole, capable, caring and compassionate people who can make a difference.

Even as a young person I was frustrated with gender inequality. I tried a number of things to push back against a restrictive system–like cutting my hair short, wearing black roller skates, choosing the T shirt iron-on image: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” and speaking up as I felt safe and bold enough to do so. Later, I sought out a women’s college to study from a feminist perspective and subsequently was drawn to study at Pacific Oaks College given its commitment to social justice and teaching to prepare students to be “agents of change.”

I have found a niche in early childhood to do some liberation work– To co-create a meaningful classroom community context to learn and teach skills about being in relationship, social problem solving, self-expression, emotional intelligence, valuing the ways we are the same and the ways we are different…

As a leader of a small school, I get to influence the thinking, priorities and tone of our community. In that, I often bring some of what I know from my experience in Re-evaluation counseling– a powerful peer counseling model to support human liberation. The basics of RC include trusting that people are good; knowing what gets in the way of relaxed, intimate connections is simply feelings of distress, inflicted by effects of institutional oppression and accumulated hurts; and reaching for each person in our community.

How do you feel fulfilled in your work?

Working with young children is hilarious, interesting, varied, invigorating, challenging, surprising and exhausting. It changes from moment to moment and demands my full attention; so there is never a dull moment.

I love the variety of what I get to do as a preschool teacher and leader in a small, tight-knit learning community/co-op preschool. I like that investing in genuine, caring relationships– with children and families alike– is at the heart of my work. I get to be my authentic self, to continually learn alongside the children, and to share my process with their families.

I get to practice community building to build a kinder, more equitable world. I like thinking about each unique child and their development, coaching children to name and express their feelings to build confidence and empathy, and supporting children and adults to be curious about social justice and to take steps to create a more equitable way of living in the world. I get to truly honor playfulness and creativity as building blocks of learning. I enjoy thinking creatively about curriculum prompts and being continually surprised by what some do with the open-ended play prompts. I like sharing my love of the natural world, continually thinking of new ways to bring natural materials into the classroom and celebrating the outdoors with the class rain or shine.

Working in parent cooperative setting allows me to learn alongside parents and to get to know a child more fully in the context of their family.  I get to share the joy and challenges of each day with families and to better support each child’s development.  Working closely with families feels hopeful to me– we get to break through some of the isolation parents of young children experience and I get to help broaden parents’ perspectives of parenting, learning and creating change.  I find collaborating with families to make discoveries,improvements and adjustments within our classroom incredibly satisfying.

In these ways I get to do what’s most important to me, sharing authentically with the youngest, most impressionable humans and with the people who love them most– their families.

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How do you feel challenged?

Having worked in early childhood since 1990, I sometimes feel impatient. I would like to create social change so that children’s experiences are truly valued, their parents and teachers are better supported to fully meet children’s needs, and a social justice curriculum is embraced nationwide. I would like to teach differently from the beginning.  The lack of respect for young children and their caregivers– parents and teachers alike– and the dearth in funding in early childhood can be discouraging. Early childhood caregivers are under-resourced to do what is arguably among the most important work. We are forced to continually make compromises and work in far from less than ideal circumstances.

For example, as funding is tight and programs consider how to make ends meet, increasing class sizes, and thereby increasing tuition revenue, is first up for discussion. But increasing class sizes is the quickest way to weaken the quality of the program and compromise caregivers’ ability to meet children’s individual needs.

Another example: Many early childhood programs are housed in spaces like churches and synagogues that subsidize the cost of care through lower than market rate rent. Since those spaces were not designed with children’s developmental needs in mind, most of them do not have toilets inside their classroom. Instead of having conveniently located, friendly bathrooms adjacent to children’s play areas while they are just learning about toileting, bathrooms tend to be down long hallways. This makes meeting children’s toileting needs more difficult, and sometimes unnecessarily stressful for children and their caregivers.

The Worthy Wage Movement* slogan summarizes the hardships of early childhood challenges: “Families can’t afford to pay and teachers can’t afford to stay.” Many families are forced to enroll their children in lower quality programs because they simply can’t afford the tuition rates of higher quality programs with lower student-teacher ratios, and better trained and supported teaching staff. Not surprisingly, its families with the most privilege who are typically able to access programs that are provisioned with the lowest teacher-child ratios, the best trained and /or compensated teachers, thereby contributing to the opportunity gap, putting families with less financial means at a further disadvantage.

The relatively low teacher compensation translates to greater turnover among teachers because many teachers don’t see it as a viable long-term option. When I worked as a teacher and a director in full-day child care with multiple teachers, we were often faced with the discouragement of yet another capable teacher/co-worker leaving their classroom or leaving the field to pursue work that paid better. I often felt frustrated by taking two steps forward, knowing we’d have to take at least one step back– when this teacher left or when the next one followed suit. As I reflect back, I feel a bit of the cumulative exhaustion.

I moved away from working in a group center setting, pursuing leadership at a small, mostly volunteer run program/parent cooperative. I trusted my own integrity, commitment, work ethic and passion. I would show up. I would give it my all. And I could count on myself. I think I believed I could sidestep the losses and the discouragement by letting go of having regular co-workers. If I didn’t have them in the first place, they couldn’t leave. They couldn’t compromise children’s growth when they left, and they couldn’t put more weight on those remaining or couldn’t compromise our progress by leaving.

But the truth is, the current parent co-op model in Portland, relies on the investment and dedication of many parents to volunteer their time and talents to run the school. Mine is the only paid position at HFP. While I’ve been amazed by the investment of the many parents who have generously carved out time within their demanding lives to invest in their child’s school, they still leave when their child heads to kindergarten, creating a similar situation of departing early childhood staff. Somebody new needs to be trained and oriented; and somebody new will start at the beginning of their learning curve to assume the required tasks at hand. It’s a compromise.

In this way, working in a parent co-op can be tiring. Teachers are forced to rely on the generosity of parents of young children who are already taxed, given that they are parenting infants, toddlers and preschoolers– young people at the most demanding developmental stage. While we have countless successes and breakthroughs as we partner with these dedicated families, we continually experience the loss of our “co-workers.”

After years in the field, it’s easy to vision significant improvements that would benefit children, parents and teachers, yet mostly we are forced to cast these ideas aside as there is no funding to support them. It’s easy to envision a modified parent cooperative model in which parents have less weighty responsibilities in the program and there is a consistent administrative staff overseeing critical functions such as enrollment, bookkeeping, etc. It’s easy to imagine a setting in which parents and teachers get the support they deserve to function at our best.

My vision of what’s possible, along with the ideas of numerous other amazing early childhood leaders, sometimes seems thwarted before we can even wonder about what’s next– what progress–what next steps we can make to build on our evolving knowledge of best practices in the classroom. The funding is grossly limited in this predominantly female dominated field, so we creatively plan, provision and invest to introduce new activities, improve classroom environments, or modify plans to better meet each child and families needs. We thoughtfully plan within our allotted resources, knowing we could do better.

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Tell us about the trajectory of your career. Who was helpful along the way?

Many, many people have been hugely helpful along my path. Partnering with other dedicated teachers, caregivers and child care providers within the Worthy Wage movement in the nineties was instrumental in my own empowerment and ability to take early childhood seriously as a career. I had internalized some of the demeaning and dismissive attitudes of child care and preschool teachers as “just” playing with “little kids” from a society that does not recognize the complexity nor the importance of this work.

While my identity as a capable early childhood teacher and advocate has deepened over time, I still find myself frustrated by the response from someone I’ve just met, who after learning of my job, responds that “must be so fun.” It’s not that the work isn’t fun; it’s that it is so much more complex and more demanding than that.  If done well, it is  downright all-encompassing.

I have had the privilege to work closely with exceptional early childhood thinkers, activists and authors like Margie Carter and Ann Pelo in my early years in Seattle, which made a tremendous difference in my ability to think critically, deepen my skills, gain appreciation for anti-bias education and to apply myself fully. I had the good fortune to work alongside some of the most self-reflective and devoted teachers at Hilltop Children’s Center, where regular paid teacher meeting and planning time were valued parts of each day.

I found author and teacher Bev Bos’s passion and revolutionary value of play, along with her reverence for children’s joy and mess-making invigorating.

I have had the pleasure of working with countless parents on various school boards and within the cooperative contexts I’ve taught. I am grateful to all the board presidents I’ve partnered with who essentially added an unpaid, part-time, demanding leadership job in co-leading a school with me for a year at a time, while balancing the needs of their families. I have been with the Hawthorne Family Playschool for the past fifteen years. The impressive first president I worked with, Jenny Taylor, supported me in finding my place within the school and has become one of my closest friends. The current president, Mitra Anoushiravani, is one of the best thinker/leader/co-collaborators I’ve ever worked with.

I have had the good fortune to share resources and support with a handful of powerhouse colleagues within the Eastside Co-op Teachers’ Consortium over the past thirteen years. These gals balance the leadership of their programs, considering everything from enrollment to fundraising to health and safety to responding to parent concerns and addressing the evolving needs of the children in their care. They work alongside a rotating group of parent volunteers as they plan curriculum endeavors and learn with the children and families in their programs.

Over the past couple of years, I have been inspired and encouraged by getting to contemplate my teaching practice with Laura Czarniecki and Katie Kissinger within an early childhood Anti-Bias Support Group, and more recently with them as well as Qahira Barton and Stephen Karmol, board members of the Threads of Justice early childhood conference.

As I reflect on the few teachers, directors and parents I’ve named; and I think of the many, many more caring, creative, dedicated, innovative and inspiring folks who have invested in early childhood, I am humbled and deeply grateful. They remind me that early childhood is not for the faint of heart and that the rewards of investing in early learning and community building are countless.

 

 

What is on your plate for this school year? Teaching, researching, presenting, etc.

In addition to teaching, I’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with a few local innovative early childhood leaders to put on the annual Threads of Justice Early Childhood Conference. I’m grateful for the opportunity to partner with other teachers and parents who prioritize self-reflection and teaching for social change. I’ll likely have more opportunities to organize additional rallies with Families For A Peaceful Protest, creating safe spaces for families to advocate for social change. I am looking forward to participating in an early childhood Anti-Bias Leadership retreat this winter through the Threads of Justice Collective with the hope that that will help me set some clear goals for myself. I hope to continue gathering exceptional children’s picture books that help counter bias, and finding ways to help parents and teachers diversify our children’s libraries so that under-represented stories and experiences gain more attention.

How has your teaching evolved over the years?

I am more confident. I have a greater trust in children’s natural curiosity and their eagerness to learn. I see my role more as a facilitator to provide multiple and varied opportunities for children to experiment and interact with materials and with each other, and less as the person holding the important knowledge in the room.

I have become a passionate advocate for children’s rights and more empathetic to parents’ needs and experiences. I lead more with adults. I believe that everything I am interested in and everything I learn can be applied to my classroom teaching and leadership within my school community.

As early childhood education becomes a more honored part of our culture, how do you think this has influenced your work with children or teachers?

I’m not sure that I see early childhood as a more honored part of our culture. I would love for that to be the case. I would love for early childhood to be a sought after and revered field, with a dramatic shift in resources allocated to the programs serving young children. I do appreciate that there has been significant thinking, research and writing offered up on the importance of play, respecting foundational years, the value of teachers partnering with parents, and anti-bias education. I know that the work in Reggio Emilia Italy has been transformative in some folks taking early childhood more seriously.

I’m grateful for the activism of educators and parents who helped to create significant changes in the publishing of children’s picture books over the last few decades. There is now a much larger variety of children’s picture books available that represent a wider range of social constituencies and experiences. I seek out some of these exceptional books affirming messages about race, gender, class, ability, sexuality/family structure and culture/language as a central part of the curriculum.

While I see significant contributions to the field, I believe we have a long way to go before E.C.E. is honored as it should be.

What cultural viewpoints do you contribute to the field?

I’m a middle class, cis-gendered, anti-racist mixed heritage Jewish,white woman feminist, artist, activist, nature-lover in a “non-traditional” family. (My partner had been married and divorced with children before I joined them, becoming a stepmom). Being female has been central to my identity my entire life. Valuing children’s experiences was modeled for me as a young child myself. My mom raised me to believe in myself and to value my own perspectives. As a feminist and a Jew, I’m quick to speak my mind and challenge what doesn’t seem quite right. As a child, adults often told me I am an “idealist.” I think I have skills to think outside the box and to vision for better. I think being in the “one down” power position of female, Jew or non-biological parent helps me to be empathetic to other marginalized and discounted groups. I’m pleased to share my orientation as an artist and environmentalist with the children and families I learn alongside.

How do you think diversity in culture is important in the field of ECE?  

Since ECE is about raising young children, I think it’s essential that those caring for young children come from a range of lived experiences and cultural backgrounds to mirror back and affirm the cultures of the children we serve. I think it’s important to represent a broad range of experiences to interrupt, challenge, stretch and/or add to the dominant culture ways of doing things and that will come most naturally as those of us in direct relationship with those we serve, are coming from diverse cultural experiences ourselves.

What is your advice to young/burgeoning teachers?

Caring for young children is important. It is likely some of the most rewarding and exhausting work available because it revolves around the vibrant spirits of young people who are new to the world. Some parts of teaching young children gets easier with time.

The funniest things happen quickly. Children’s words, insights and discoveries can be lost or forgotten as teachers tend to the next arising need in our classrooms. If/as you have a moment, jot these key ideas down to revisit later. They can serve as reminders of the richness of a day together. They can give you an opportunity to further reflect on what transpired. They can help you consider ways to build on children’s thoughts, questions, or breakthroughs.

How do you help yourself relax/unwind after a long day of working with children? What helps you feel healthy and taken care of?

I often have the luxury of walking to and home from school. I find this time restorative and helpful to process the interactions I’ve had throughout the day.  I love tuning into the bits of nature in our city. I have also become queen of the twenty minute restorative afternoon

Non-educational practices/hobbies that are important to you.

Reading in a hammock or by the fire. Escaping into a great movie. Walking, hiking, camping and river rafting. Hanging out with my feline buddy, Catawampus. Making vegetarian munchies. Sharing photos and snipits of our days between my sisters and I via text. Checking out inspiring videos on my friends’ Facebook feeds.

Can you talk about a sacrifice or setback that you have tackled as an early childhood educator over the years?

After working in the field for about seventeen-eighteen years, I was seriously wondering if I could afford to remain in ECE. I was single at the time and most of the teachers my age were partnered– they had a second family member’s income to meet expenses.

Over the past few years, I had been working with my school to creatively balance our budget to eek out a few extra dollars for our teacher compensation package, but we were at the end of what we could likely do with the funds we had available.  Once we had a particularly strong group of board members, many of whom had been leading with me on the board the year prior, I initiated the idea to raise tuition while simultaneously implementing a sliding fee tuition scale. Families would pay according to their means, and the top tier of the scale would generate more revenue for teacher compensation from those families who could afford to pay more. After doing home visits for several years, I felt pretty confident that many of the families in our program could afford to pay more if only they were asked to do so. This group of parent/board members backed my work and were sympathetic for the need for financial change in ECE. Still, it felt risky. After multiple meetings and much discussion, we figured out a way to implement the scale for a trial year without a financial risk to our school. The rest of the school community quickly warmed up to the new tuition payment system. We made a few modifications to work out kinks. The sliding fee scale allowed us to:

1) Acknowledge the financial disparity that exists between families; and act on that information, taking a step toward more equitably addressing these financial differences among families by asking families to pay according to their means.

2) Safeguard access of care for families with low or modest incomes, as families with less or modest incomes self-select to pay lower or middle-rate monthly tuition rates.

3) Educate families about a more accurate cost of early childhood care.

4) Raise additional funds within budgets, as families with greater means self-select to pay a higher monthly tuition rate.

As we generated more revenue, we were able to increase my compensation, making it easier for me to stay in the job I loved. The sliding fee tuition scale continues to be an effective tool for HFP. I’m pleased to share that it’s also been a model for other programs who have opted to introduce a sliding fee scale as well.

For more information about the scale, click here.

What inspired you to keep moving forward?

The last book that you read that really inspired your thinking around your work?

I’m flipping back and forth between two books right now: “Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges” by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore and “Anti-Bias Education in the Early Childhood Classroom: Hand in Hand, Step by Step” by Katie Kissinger.  I’m also pouring over a website I just learned about: http://www.talkingrace.org.

Final thoughts: Hope, belief, love of the profession?

I think early childhood teaching is truly about loving the young children and families in our care. It is a blessing to make a living loving and growing with others. It is a huge joy for me to get to run into children who I taught years ago– getting to see them as elementary schoolers, middle schoolers or high schoolers, proud of who they are continuing to become.

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Teacher Profile #4: Homa Miazad

We say in our society that we value children but taking a closer look at our social rules and institutional policies that relate to children, one can see that we prefer children to be invisible. The value of early childhood educators in our society is a reflection of our value and our image of children as a society.

Hometown:  I was originally born in Kabul Afghanistan and lived there the first nine years of my life. My family migrated to United States in 1980 when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. My family sought political asylum and was accepted by United States. I grew up in New York where I became a Fashion Designer. I married my husband in 1994 and had our first child in 1998. This was a turning point in my life that eventually led me to change careers from the fashion industry to early childhood education.

Current Location:  I have lived and continue to reside in Oregon for about seventeen years.

Job Title:  Sr.Child Development Specialist and Mentor Teacher

Degrees/EducationBachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design, from Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC; Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction in ECE, from PSU

Age: 47

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have children?

About 17 years. Yes, I have two girls 18 and 12.

What is the story of what first drew you to work with children?

When my daughter Nadia turned three we enrolled her in preschool. I couldn’t bear to be apart from her and decided to volunteer in her class. I absolutely loved being with my daughter and around children. I began to read and study about child development. The school hired me to be the lead teacher; they thought I was a natural. Both my mom and dad were educators and I began to feel the same passion and decided to continue in their footsteps. I began my educational journey by acquiring my CDA and taking classes at PSU.

Continue reading “Teacher Profile #4: Homa Miazad”

Teacher Profile #3: Laurie Todd

What we do is transformative . The RIE motto of ‘authentic infant, competent child’ feels like such a gift – to be allowed to develop oneself without pressure from adults to always be bigger, better and faster, to have one’s competence recognized and fostered, to be able to fail without shame and to learn from those failures – all these things allow children to develop the resilience to carry them through the hard times that every life brings.

 

 

I opened Laurie’s House in September of 1993, I don’t call it a school – even though we learn a lot here!

Hometown–  First 8 years Fairbanks Alaska, then 9 years in Mt. Vernon, Washington then on to Portland for college.

Current Location–  Portland, Oregon

Job Title–  Early Childhood Educator, Family Child Care Provider/owner

Degrees/Education–  4 years History and Political Science at Lewis & Clark – pre-law – left one class short of graduating. I left because I had come out in my Junior year and was angry about many things – among them the fact that I’d spent all of my 21 years doing what other people wanted me to do. I needed time to learn who I was and read only what I wanted to read! It was a confusing and liberating time in my life.

2 years at PSU with a BA in History and Secondary Education

1 year in the Masters in History program at PSU – I was focusing on the history of child rearing

2 years for my MA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks

Age– 59

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I’ve been working with children for 30 years. I helped raise a friend’s daughter, but have no children of my own.

What is the story of what first drew you to work with children?

A long and serendipitous one – I had been reading Ivan Illich and John Holt’s writing on radical education, the Secondary Ed. program at PSU in the mid-80’s felt dehumanizing to me. It validated my sense that Illich’s line  “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is” was correct and that schools as institutions generally didn’t allow much room for self- discovery and questioning.

I figured ECE was more of the same but with younger children, and I was an out lesbian so I didn’t see it as a possible career. A friend had been fired from an ECE job for being a lesbian, and with anti-gay ballot measures popping up that would have restricted our ability to be licensed, I couldn’t imagine myself in this field.

Then as I was about to start grad. school and needed a part time job a friend told me that her daughter’s preschool (Childpeace Montessori) needed subs and since I was “good with children” I should apply. I thought “job from hell”, but I needed money – after my first day of work they hired me on as regular afternoon staff, and later in their new infant room. I had some good experiences there. Then friends asked me to do part time child-care for their baby – they were reading RIE and I loved it. We attended a workshop Pacific Oaks had Magda Gerber do here in Portland. At that time the college had an outreach program here, and they were offering their social and political foundations class the next semester. I saw that in addition to sexism and racism, which had barely been mentioned in my PSU classes, they were talking about classism and homophobia. I decided to take the class that Louise Derman-Sparks and Katie Kissinger were teaching, and soon realized that I’d found my people and my passion.

Is this your calling? If not, why do you do it?

Yes, my calling and my passion. I feel very lucky to have stumbled into it, having spent my 20’s searching for my right work.

Do you feel fulfilled in this work? How so?

 Yes, mostly, but sometimes there’s a nagging voice in my head that with my education I should be doing more. Some days with babies feel very long, but I like the way I am pushed to my edge and get to work through so much of my own stuff as I am with them. Early on in my learning with infants I examined that period in my own life and saw  mistakes my parents made; learning about early development and working with babies has given me the opportunity to understand and heal some of those places. I’ve always been interested in social and emotional development, and getting to spend the first three years with a variety of interesting people has deepened my understanding and appreciation of how our emotional self is formed.

I continue to grow in my ability to be patient and present with discomfort – my own and that of others. When I am not as patient, present, or gentle as I strive to be I have learned to repair the emotional wound, and forgive myself.

Tell us about the trajectory of your career. Who was helpful along the way? How do you feel like having your own children (if you have any) influenced your career decisions/aspirations/understanding/etc?

 Everyone at PO was wonderfully helpful –  some, along with friends and family, even lent me money to begin my program. Nan Narboe, whose baby I first took care of and who introduced me to RIE has been a great support and teacher along the way. She and my massage therapist have been like wise older sisters, or supervisors to me, and when I get stuck I still call them for help. My practicum students have given me the opportunity to do my best teaching; we sit on the kitchen floor and debrief – exploring different perspectives on what we and the children are doing.

 At PO I didn’t know what I was going to do with this degree, but when I started my thesis I realized that I didn’t see anyone doing RIE in a family child care environment and knew that was what I wanted. Maureen Moreland was using RIE in the program she directed at Parent Child Services, and I think there were others who had studied some RIE, but there weren’t many of us.

I taught one class a semester in the distance learning program at PO for 15 years, but after the reign of the evil college president, and when my partner became disabled, I stopped. I’ve done some teaching and workshops locally, PCC, OAEYC, and now BAB.

As my partner’s mobility impairment has increased we’ve had to make a number of expensive changes to our house and landscape. I didn’t want to move because I’ve put so much into creating this environment and making it work. Some of the changes have been great for the children; everyone loves our ramp and running up and down it at the end of the day as parents watch and visit has become a wonderful part of our culture here. We moved the sandbox to make a raised garden bed for Terri, and the new location along with the hard surface pavers we had to put in have all been positive changes.

I was lucky to have spent time learning about accessibility issues at Pacific Oaks, so I felt more prepared for some of the changes than I would have otherwise been. The children certainly benefit from having a person in their lives who uses a power wheelchair, and it’s added to our conversations about how to make the world work for everybody. As someone who’s pushed strollers a lot, curb cut activism has always been a part of my work with children!

On the downside, more of the responsibility for maintaining our home has fallen on me, as Terri has been able to do less. That’s made the time crunch we all feel, a bit tighter for me.  We’ve had to rearrange some furniture in ways that make it easier for her to move through the space, but don’t serve the child care function as well.

Tell us what your hopes for the future are. Where do you hope to be in ten years? Twenty?

 I want my body to hold up until I retire in six and a half years – yoga and other self-care are more important as I age. I want there to be more good options for infant care and I feel a responsibility (as well as financial need) to continue to provide care for two more cohorts. After I retire I want to study English and Math because I didn’t the first time through, and volunteer or do a bit of consulting, teaching, or sub work if that feels right.

What is the bigger picture for you? How do you see the work of early childhood education acting on the world?

 What we do is transformative – a couple of my first babies are out in the world now doing great work, and they’re starting from a stronger foundation than many in my generation had. We’re planting seeds to keep the good in the world going, and nurturing resilience so these children will have the inner strength to deal with what’s not good in the world. The RIE motto of  ‘authentic infant, competent child’ feels like such a gift – to be allowed to develop oneself without pressure from adults to always be bigger, better and faster, to have one’s competence recognized and fostered, to be able to fail without shame and to learn from those failures – all these things allow children to develop the resilience to carry them through the hard times that every life brings.

What is on your plate for this school year? Teaching, researching, presenting, etc.

I’m in the last year of cohort #8 and enjoying the ease of our final year together. My professional growth is to keep pushing myself to support children in areas that are uncomfortable for me – art and messy sensory activities – I’ve gotten better over the years, but this will never be my strength. My interest in social and emotional development continues to be my strength, and my curiosity about who each child is helps me guide them as they develop a sense of self and their place in the world.

How has your teaching evolved over the years? As early childhood education becomes a more honored part of our culture, how do you think this has influenced your work with children or teachers?

 Years of practice have made me more patient. I am also better able to accept and appreciate the differences in our practices – we don’t all have to be teaching the same way to be good, nor should we. I’m really interested in how differences in time, place, and culture impact the way we raise children.

 What is your advice to young/burgeoning teachers?

 Know yourself and keep learning. 

How do you help yourself relax/unwind after a long day of working with children? What helps you feel healthy and taken care of?

 Meditation, yoga, reading, listening to music and singing, walking, good podcasts

 Non-educational practices/hobbies that are important to you.

 Knitting and the things above.

Can you talk about a sacrifice or setback that you have tackled as an early childhood educator over the years?

 Dealing with paperwork and QRIS – as a person with an aversion to standardized, institutionalized education, QRIS really challenged me. I ended up having someone else finish my portfolio for me, because I couldn’t see how much of  what I was being asked related to my small in home infant program. Having had conversations with a number of people in different roles I understand the complexity of trying to improve early childhood education, but I hate it when I see good small programs struggling under rules and language that don’t fit who they are.

Last book that you read that really inspired your thinking around your work?

 Emily Plank’s ‘Discovering the Culture of Childhood’

Final thoughts: Hope, belief, love of the profession?

 I hope for the authentic self of all children to be supported and honored. It thrills me that there is so much good information about child development easily available now. Janet Lansbury is doing a wonderful job spreading Magda Gerber’s work, and the number of FB groups and web pages I see promoting play based learning, early brain development, and the need for children to live childhood at their own pace, inspire me. I am gratified to see the work being done to dismantle oppressive systems especially as they relate to early childhood. There is lots of good work to be done, and lots of good people doing it.

 

 

 

Teacher Profile #2: Michelle Lewis Barnes

I think early childhood is a field from which we can make the largest impact on the social and emotional wellness of our population. Whether it be directly through our work with young children on a daily basis, or with their parents — we have this intensely valuable inroad we cannot ignore.

Hometown – I grew up in Hubbard, a small town about 30 minutes south of Portland.

Current Location – I own and operate three small early childhood settings here in Portland, OR. Busy Bee Preschool, Sunflowers Preschool, and The Nest Playschool.

Job Title – I’ve never quite settled on the perfect title for what I do. Owner? Director? I make most of my work about supporting my teachers, and (not so) occasionally getting out of their way when their ideas are far more valid than any of mine.

Degrees/Education – I meandered my way through my education over many years. I started out at the University of Oregon after high school, starting out in the journalism program. I transferred to Portland State University, changing majors a few time. Life intervened, and after getting married and having children, I took a “break”. 20 years later, I decided that I had to get back to it, and finished up my B.S. in Social Sciences, mainly so I could pursue my not-so-newfound passion for early childhood education, and I just finished up my M.Ed. from Champlain College last year.

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I’ve been working with children since my first daughter was born — it was 17 years ago this month that I skidded out of the emotional meltdown that was my maternity leave to give notice to my employer, knowing only one thing: I had decided that hell or high water, I was going to figure out how to stay home with her. I quickly found myself researching how to open a family child care home. Many years later, I am now the mother to five children: my 11 year old daughter, 14 year old son, 17 year old daughter, and two stepsons: 17 and 18 years old.

Continue reading “Teacher Profile #2: Michelle Lewis Barnes”

Art Is Life…

Upon returning from the Women’s March on Washington, DC, I continue to be inspired by the idea that making art is a form of resistance and struggle. In a throng of five hundred + thousand, and in the midst of other marches around the states and the world, we marched in solidarity for collective liberty and progressive values.

The march itself was art. Not only were there many expressions of dissent in signs and placards, but the flock and swell of color and sound and movement was entrancing. We are art.

If art is an expression of Self, and a gift to Other, then it is a way for us to build community and understanding between people who think, feel, and interact in different ways. It is a means for us to connect to the experiences that surround us, but that most of the time we are blind to.

The day after the march I visited the National Gallery of Art for the first time. It has been a LOT of years since I have made the time to visit a museum by myself, to take in color, light, texture, scent, without children or a partner of any sort. Beauty is important food.

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It got me thinking a lot about creation and destruction and the whipping spiral of polarity.

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And the difference between art as an act of creation and art as an act of replication.

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This from my time in Reggio Emilia last Spring:

As we were asking questions at the Matriri di Sesso preschool today, a colleague gave the example of a child who was drawing a flower from a still life at the table. The child drew the flower like you would expect a child to draw a flower.
The idea of a flower: stem, some petals, a leaf or two…
The teacher continued to encourage the child to look closely, and after a couple of typical drawings, the child drew a picture that represented a realistic aesthetic of the flower. The colleague then asked how much time in Reggio Emilia the children spend creating art that is typical, and how much teachers push children to create art that is representational.
The atelierista answered in this way:
“I personally believe in the importance of stereotypes, especially for children.  But then it is also important for children to break stereotypes, especially as it pertains to uncovering difference.”
By stereotype, he meant the typical flower drawing. By breaking stereotypes, I believe he meant looking closely at the differences between what we think we know, and what is actually there.
What stunned me was the layer of understanding that I gained about the connection between art-making and anti-bias work.
How does supplying a diversity of materials and experiences, and asking children to be both fantastical and on the other hand precise, create both stereotypes and the breaking of stereotypes? In relationship to the flower drawing, how does this experience have the potential to open our brains and spirits, and lift us out of rigid thinking, and especially in terms of anti-bias education?
When we offer children the experience of looking closely in art, how do they translate that to ideas of difference within people?  Does it help them to be curious?  Does it help them to negate the idea that we are all the same?
What are the ways that artistic expression, poeticism, and the 100 languages specifically and pointedly feed into us- as human beings- being able to executively break down barriers within ourselves and between us and Other?

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While at the NGA in DC, I spent some time taking photos. At first, when in the gallery, I felt self-conscious taking pictures. I felt like a tourist, someone who was not interacting “correctly” with the art. And then in re-interpreting my attempts at picture-taking, I created some art of my own.

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What we are really fighting for is beauty and the freedom to experience things in an independent and unique way. What we are fighting for is the right to be. Art allows us the freedom to express our experience. Of stereotype. Of essence.

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I want to revisit these ideas with our teachers. How do we approach art-making with children at our school? Why is it important to engage children in a deeper and more complex experience of art? How does art help us to understand difference? To remain in dialogue, not just with the world around us, but with each other? How does art-making contribute to the very act of being human?

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Children know that art is life. How can we- as fellow craftspeople, marvels, viruosos, dancers, soloists, ensemblists, thespians, writers, poets, photographers, builders and dreamers- join them?

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Teacher Profile #1: Angela Molloy Murphy

My hopes lie in the transformative powers of education and the potential of our youngest citizens, to overcome great obstacles and manifest a radically just and equitable society for themselves and their children.

Hometown – Phoenix, Arizona. I left as soon as I could because the conservative atmosphere was stifling. I have been in Portland for 23 years.

Current Location – Rowanberry School, Portland, OR, USA

Degrees/Education – I have a Masters Degree in Education from PSU from before there was an Early Childhood specialization, but I took every ECE class they offered, so my advisor Christine Chaille told me I should say I have a MEd with an emphasis in ECE, for whatever it’s worth. I also went through their GTEP program and became licensed to teach K-8. This fall I started the Educational Leadership Doctorate, Curriculum & Instruction, EdD program at PSU and I can already tell it is going to be a totally transformational experience.

The program is intense. I am one who procrastinated all the way through my master’s program, never putting more than a few hours into even the most important papers I wrote, so this has been a shock. The jump from the Masters to the doctoral program is like the jump from kindergarten to high school…I just couldn’t have imagined it despite people trying to prepare me. The bad news…the first two years will be busy, stressful, intense. The good news, I learned more in a term than I have in the last many years put together because I need that structure to force me to work.

Age 46

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I have been working with young children for 24 years; for the last 20 years straight. I started teaching preschool and working as a nanny when I was a teenager, occasionally taking breaks to work at jobs that made more money. By my mid 20’s I had surrendered to the idea that working with young children was my calling, and I had to be creative and figure out a way to make a decent living at it. I have a 15 year old and a 10 year old of my own.

Tell us what your hopes for the future are. Where do you hope to be in ten years? Twenty?

I’m not sure what the future holds for me. I would like to eventually get more into teacher education but hope to always work with young children in some capacity.

What is on your plate for this school year?

Teaching, researching, presenting, etc. This year I am teaching alone for the first time ever and really loving it. I am a natural collaborator and love working with a partner, but as a reflective practitioner I started wondering if I might be using teaching in partnership to avoid stepping into my own power as a teacher and a director. It turns out, of course, that I was. So that’s something I’m exploring.

I am also enjoying the tiny class size that comes with teaching alone which has been a lovely surprise. I started the EdD program this fall so there is a lot that has come with that…new ideas, new conferences, new connections… it feels like my whole world has just blown up in a good way. I am planning on returning to Reggio Emilia, Italy in the Spring. I’m guessing that I’ll be ready to do more presenting next year…right now I’m just trying to catch my breath.

Non-educational practices/hobbies that are important to you.

Spending time with my family, reading and writing, photography, watching TV and movies, being outdoors, playing and listening to music, going to see live music. Just generally trying to pursue an artistic life. Also being gentle with myself when I just need to do something useless or do nothing at all.

Can you talk about a sacrifice or setback that you have tackled as an early childhood educator over the years?

It has been difficult for me to deal with the disrespect that people have for preschool, preschool teachers, and for young children in general. Even in the field of education, early education is undervalued. When I was young I think it hurt my ego. Now I have a better sense of my own self-worth, so I am offended for other reasons. I am disturbed by the mainstream view of young children as incompetent…as a “person in the making” rather than a whole person who has so much to offer to their community and to society. These days I try to take that feeling of indignation and pour it into elevating our culture’s image of the child beyond being simply consumers of products and technology.

Last book that you read that really inspired your thinking around your work?

Definitely Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I read it when I was very young, but revisiting it with more experience and maturity made it an entirely different read. Also, considering the potential for the incoming administration to use schools as a tool of oppression and subjugation, this book feels like a timely and urgent call to action. I think educators have been given a charge that we each have to respond to in our own way, or in multiple ways, to help education achieve its potential of emancipating people…raising them up. For me, my work with children all comes from and goes back to critical pedagogy.

Final thoughts: Hope, belief, love of the profession?

I guess my final thoughts are about hope. I campaigned hard for Bernie during this election season, and even though the election had a tragic outcome, the experience of working with wildly different people from all generations, unified by nothing but hope; it reconnected me to the ideals and activism of my youth in a profound way.  As they say in Rogue 1, “rebellions are built on hope.”  I think our work as educators of (and with) young children is also deeply rooted in hope…I also think it has the potential to function a lot like a rebellion, but that’s another story for another day! My hopes lie in the transformative powers of education and the potential of our youngest citizens, to overcome great obstacles and manifest a radically just and equitable society for themselves and their children.