Written by Shari Stewart
Like everyone we jumped online and got busy this year. Meeting, talking and supporting kindergarten teachers throughout Victoria. It has been a pleasure to meet groups of exceptional educators who despite their own stress and worry continued to turn up for the children and families they work with. Stories were told of personal issues and concerns and space was created for educators to be themselves, to be heard and understood. To be understood when saying this job is hard when I’m worried about family, that this job is hard when I have my own kids to look after that this job is hard because I don’t know if I’m safe.
Not enough credit has been given to early years educators who continued to turn up, greet their children, support their families and ensure that a critical role contributing to the community continued. All the while, during lockdown, the majority of us were in our homes, protecting ourselves and the ones we love. Whilst kindergarten teachers opened their doors, set their rooms and welcomed children into a place of familiarity and comfort.
Numbers were down across the board, smaller groups of children arrived, sometimes only one or two. Whilst this made management of the room easier, the dynamic was different, relationships more intense and for some the day seemed longer. What was noticed is that quiet children had the chance to speak, educators could work 1:1, conversations were had that were meaningful, in the midst of strangeness there were some highlights. But these highlights were always at the cost of children missing.
Educators suffered the loss of these children, the connections, the laughter, the conversations and the cuddles. Human relationships are at the core of education and when these are removed the role becomes less. Less people to see, share and love with. Because love is indeed what we do and that is hard with distance. Not enough credit has been given to the educators who continued to turn up to face the loss of their families at home and work. Never before have educators had to rely on each other as much. Draw strength and comfort from their teams.
Some teams did it well, giving space for this new COVID world and all the strangeness that came with it. For others, the cracks widened and people struggled. We saw and heard both. We offered opportunities through art and stories for expression, we witnessed a whole range of experience and we valued it all. And we learnt.
We learnt that change is difficult, feeling unsafe leads to uncertainty, that uncertainty is messy and in the messiness is opportunity. We relearnt that educators are individuals, with individuals, lived experience is diverse and that lived experience when valued helps us to connect and learn from each other.
So yes, there have been losses over the past two years and with loss comes grief. But amidst the grief we can find hope and the hope is that when the world gets hard, educators turn up.