Who is a Teacher?

I read this blog posting (“The Amazing Infant Teacher”) by chance one day not long ago, when it was miraculously exactly what I needed to read. I would like to print out about one hundred copies and carry them with me, handing one out each time I’m confronted with disrespect for my passion, my chosen profession.

Benjamin’s teachers are amazing, wonderful young women. They are talented and confident and kind. They are guardians of miracles, and they make miracles happen every day.

There are a few standard responses one gets when answering the inevitable small talk query of, “And what do you do?” with, “I’m an infant and toddler caregiver!”

  • “Oh, that must be so much fun! Babies are so cute.”
  • “…?” (Blank stare. Immediate disengagement.)
  • “You change diapers for a living?”

After reading this beautiful blog post, I’m considering having some business cards printed up. A solid color with just the words, “Guardian of Miracles,” emblazoned on the front.

I have a friend who, as first a preschool and then kindergarten teacher, describes her job as, “Changing the world.” And she is, one child at a time. Teachers often get the short end of the stick in our society, but I have seen a positive shift in some areas in recent years. I believe things will continue to improve, especially as technology helps us to disseminate information so much more quickly in regards to educational trends and research. Parents today seem to be increasingly empowered, which can only be better and better for (good) teachers and the field of education as a whole. In most parts of the country, for better and for worse, there has also been a fairly recent move to improve the quality of early education in particular. There has been a push for higher standards for teachers and for programs. New tools and protocols are introduced and tested on a regular basis. Brain research is helping us to understand exactly what young children need and the best new standards are beginning to reflect that information.

For those of us who are on the inside of this field, it’s both a challenging and exciting time. All too often, however, we infant and toddler caregivers are on the sidelines, weeding through articles and trainings and classes to find the information that is most relevant to ourselves. Just as the preschool teachers who work on elementary campuses, in close contact with kindergarten teams, feel that other teachers look down their noses at them, up to their elbows in playdough and sociodramatic play, infant and toddler teachers are often marginalized by preschool staff.

Someone close to me recently sounded off to me (infant caregivers are notoriously good listeners) about a friend of hers who referred to her toddler son’s childcare as “school”. “It’s not school,” she said, thoroughly exasperated, “It’s not a classroom. It’s a daycare. Call it what it is.” I guess it all depends on your definition of school/education/caregiving. For me, they’re all pretty closely tied together, but I do draw the line at “daycare”. A professor of mine very early in my child development education declared, “We don’t take care of days. We take care of children.”

I most frequently describe myself as a “teacher” not only because that is where my training and education lies, but also because that is a job description people can easily understand and one that does not strike me as disingenuous. If I’m in a situation where I have more time to explain myself, I’ll often say that I’m an “infant caregiver” or even an “educarer,” for our local school district. I’ll describe the program that I work in and the kind of things I do, with both children and families.

I’m proud of the work that I do. I know it’s important and meaningful and I’m pleased to be among those who can say that I truly LOVE my job. It’s so much more than a “job” to me. It’s one of the most fulfilling aspects of my fulfilling life. That must be why it feels so deeply personal when someone belittles my profession.

It is commonly (and truthfully) said that parents are a child’s first teachers. What, then, is a teacher? What is school?

When children start in our program, we welcome their families to their new “home away from home”. We commonly refer to this space as our “classroom” and to the professionals within that environment as “teachers”, although individually we will often describe ourselves and one another as “primary caregivers”. We generally refer to the facility as a whole as the “center”, and only rarely as “school” (usually when children use that word themselves), but I don’t see tremendous differentiation between the terms. Our facility is a place where learning happens every day, all the time, on purpose and quite by accident. It happens for all of us: teachers, parents, caregivers, infants, toddlers, preschool children, and administrators.

In response to the standard responses I receive when my occupation is revealed, I would like to say the following:

  • Oh my gosh, YES! The infants and toddlers are so, so cute. They’re also so, so smart, and competent, and are all-around amazing individuals that I’m so fortunate to be able to get to know through observation and meaningful interaction. My job is FUN, but it’s also really challenging and dynamic, which is what I enjoy the most.
  • Do babies bore you? Because if you’d like to talk about something else perhaps we could talk about brain development or psychology or educational theory or politics or other myriad topics of interest to us infant caregivers. I promise not to use baby talk or sing a single verse of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
  • I do change diapers for a living. That’s when the best learning happens.
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