Teaching as food for the creative soul

By Karen Szydlik

I accidentally became a kindergarten teacher. I had always liked kids; spent time baby sitting in my teenage years and always enjoyed the company of young children, but I never really had a sense of what I wanted to do for a job. The job I was most exposed to as a young person was teaching-obviously. These people, apart from my parents, were the people I saw every day. In my early years they were mostly women and I could see this might be an option for me. This was Australia in the 60’s in the suburbs. Most of the female role models in my life, other than my teachers, were stay-at-home-mums.

In my secondary schooling there came a change as our family moved overseas to South Africa for my dad’s work. Here women were represented in many areas of the workforce. White women that is. And as I am a white woman this meant my options and the possible ways I could see myself in the future increased. In my class of 30 plus girls, there were aspiring doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, architects, nurses, scientists, actors etc. Not one aspired to be a stay-at-home-mum, the pressure was on for me to find a ‘career’ a ‘passion.’

At the end of my school years back in Australia again, the options seemed limited again. I did know by now, that I wanted to go on to further study…but to ‘be’ what?

Some of my friends had left school in the earlier years, as was the pattern of the times, to study secretarial skills, or take on apprenticeships. That left four of us to do HSC. Three of us became teachers, one a vet nurse. I chose kindergarten teaching; the others chose primary teaching. I knew it was with the younger children that I preferred to spend my time.

And so, began my love-hate relationship with teaching. I would throw myself in for a few years, burn out, study something else, work somewhere else (in another industry) and then throw myself back in…and so the cycle continued. Teach, burn out, study, new job, teach, burn out study etc… After 30 odd years I have begun six post graduate courses of study, completed three, and I’m still doing one. I have done countless courses that didn’t amount to a certificate. I have reinvented myself as a trainer, lecturer, writer, academic, therapist…I have been a waitress, dishwasher, business owner, facilitator and administrator.

Now that my own children are all older than 9, I am really missing the 3, 4 and 5-year olds and the experiences one shares with these children in the kindergarten space. I reflect on my time in the early years and I am struck by the creativity required and experience as a kindergarten teacher. I look back wistfully on the days when I was surrounded by children and laughter, and robust unique conversations. I was surrounded by music and paint and clay and original planning. In the thick of it, I didn’t realise how many of my creative desires were being fulfilled by being a teacher. I could burst out in song, play jazz or classical or contemporary music with and for the children. I could take photographs, make posters, dabble with paints, and markers and fine liners, clay and card of all descriptions.

I was artist, musician, dancer, actor, writer, designer, communicator, teacher.

I could sit alongside children, making up stories and poems. I could create from nothing- a lesson plan for drama or music or literacy or dance.

I was creator-inventor

I would scour shops for fabrics and knick knacks. I could communicate with families and other teachers.

When teaching was such a creative endeavour it fed me as much as it fed the children.

Creative experiences on tap. What a space! What a privilege!