My name is Janine and I am a kaiako (teacher) at The Learning Centre in Ponsonby, Auckland. I started working at TLC over three years ago. For me, it was a dream opportunity. But it hasn’t been easy. Now I have completed a continuity of care cycle, it has made me reflect on how I have changed as a teacher and remember my own personal journey...
The time has come to say goodbye to my cohort of 3 1⁄2 year olds and return to the Kākano room to begin again with a new cohort of infants. I remember feeling a combination of excitement, anxiety and pride to once again be in a position to meet new parents, role model the philosophy and be an advocate for TLC and Magda Gerber’s Educaring® Approach.
I guess I feel better prepared this time, as the first time around was a difficult journey to say the least. I had learned about RIE® and Magda Gerber’s Educaring® Approach around 2011 and did the RIE® Foundations: Theory and ObservationTM course with Polly Elam and Sharon Smith. This was an amazing experience that had me buzzing with the possibility of using the RIE® principles in my old centre, being a mentor for my fellow teachers, sharing this vision with the management team......but no.....that did not happen. I came to the realisation that some people just don’t care about respecting infants, toddlers or young children, they will ‘care for them’ and ‘meet their needs’ in the way they believe is appropriate, but that’s as far as it goes. To say I had a huge reality check, was an understatement. Then I changed centres and even though it seemed to be more opportunity to work with infants under this philosophy, it still couldn't quite reach its full potential. I was more than disappointed, why was this so hard?
Respecting infants, trusting their abilities, creating an environment that supports free movement, responsive care. Sounds great right? Having a program for toddlers that supports their independence and interdependence. That works with their autonomy.. Small numbers, flexible timeframes, consistency and creating limits and boundaries that provide optimum learning opportunities for the children. Perfect! What about, uninterrupted play, respectful communication, listening, equity, partnership, one on one care routines, trust, observation, planning ..and so on...That's what we do isn’t it?
Teachers following the Educaring® Approach do all this and more. So why is there so much resistance from centres and teachers? Why do some people get so dismissive, even passive aggressive, when we try to discuss how we can be more respectful with the infants in our care. When we try and open up discussions about Magda Gerber’s vision for children and families with our centre managers or team leaders, the proverbial door gets slammed in our faces. I felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall. Only a handful of teachers I knew, felt the RIE® principles were the only way it should be. Others were outright derisive. I think I gave up a little bit then. I stopped reading about the philosophy and stopped wanting to share it with others. I am ashamed to say, I think I even stopped being a respectful teacher and just went along with what everyone else was doing. It felt wrong.
Then came the opportunity to work at TLC!! To work with women I had seen at workshops...talking about the philosophy, loving it, understanding it. In my mind, it was the ‘holy grail’ of RIE® inspired teachings. It was the place to learn, to grow and to finally see how the philosophy translates to real practice in a centre that has Magda Gerber’s Educaring® Approach in its heart and everything is done with that in mind. I was beyond excited. I had heard of Elena Marouchos, Ania Wojcikowski and Nikki Grazier and knew that this was where I needed to be.
When I finally got upstairs to work alongside Elena and the upstairs team and begin my own cohort.....I seemed to lose myself. I forgot some of the basics of the Educaring® Approach. I didn’t know who I was as a teacher. I wanted to be a RIE® teacher and ‘wipe away’ my teaching practices from the other centres. I didn’t want to be like that anymore...I wanted to be a teacher like Elena and Ania. But as much as I wanted that...it didn’t happen.. I made mistakes, I dwelled on the choices I made with the children, I second guessed my decisions and I knew I wasn’t being a strong team member or a confident and authentic teacher.
The first meeting I had with Elena, stays with me even two years later. I’ll never forget what she said to me that day. She looked at me and said “I don’t know who you are as a teacher. I can’t give you advice, guidance or even comment on how you are with the children, because you are NOT being your authentic self......I can see that.....you know this and the children can sense it.” Of course it wasn’t word for word, but the message was clear. STOP trying to ‘DO’ RIE® and learn to ‘FEEL’ RIE ® . Don’t be afraid to be yourself, you are learning and if you are unsure what to do with the children in a way that reflects the philosophy, then we have something to work on.
I’ll be honest, some days I felt like throwing it all in. I felt frustrated at myself and exhausted mentally and emotionally. Some days I cried in the car on the way home. I remember thinking I was a crap teacher and I was never going to ‘get’ this. But every morning I got back in that room and I watched and listened to Elena with the children, then we talked and worked out strategies and I tried to remember all the things that were explained to me. It made sense. I loved the philosophy. I believed in the principles. I could see how the children responded, learned and developed under this philosophy and it amazed me. I could see a difference in the way the children in my last centre expressed themselves, their sense of self awareness, self regulation, confidence, inner directedness, it was not where it could be. The way the children at TLC moved, responded; their independence, their holistic growth and the development of their skills, proved the philosophy worked! What Magda Gerber and Dr. Emmi Pikler believed about children’s capabilities was true and I could see it and I wanted.....NEEDED to be a part of this. So as frustrating and raw as this experience was sometimes, I trusted Elena. I knew she saw potential in me and I wanted to prove to her and to myself that I could FEEL this philosophy; that it came from my heart, not just from my head.
We laugh about that time now, Elena and I. She looks at me with warmth and affection (I think) when we reminisce about all my ‘challenges’ in the Kākano room. She uses me in her talks at workshops to express that our time was a learning curve for both of us. I think, for me, the most precious part and the most humbling, is when she looks at me and says softly and emphatically, that she learned about herself from me??! Those words are a gift. Personally, I think I gave her many sleepless nights and a few more gray hairs!!
So my journey continued from the (Kākano room) young infants, to the (Weka room) older infants to the (Kea space) toddler room and then to the Tūī room with the pre-school children. I LOVED being part of TLC's vision for continuity of care. After all the growth and soul searching I did in the Kākano room, I felt that it was worth it, to move with my cohort of six children through all the spaces. I continued learning along the way and at some point I think I even became a mentor for some of the other teachers!?! It was a wonderful experience that made me understand myself more and I learned that even when you feel like you are at your lowest point, you can come back up. Self belief, resilience, determination, confidence, trust and respect for yourself and others, gives you the strength to work through obstacles. To be the person you want to be at the end of the day. This is the type of learning we want for our children right? What a lesson to learn at this stage of my life and what a gift we can give our children.
Teaching infants, toddlers and young children under the RIE® principles is visionary and creates a future where there is hope and compassion and kindness. It is celebrating and accepting children in each stage of their growth and it is preparing them to be the adults we hope they will be. It’s why we do what we do.
So now.....I’m back upstairs.to begin again........
Janine is a teacher at The Learning Centre (TLC) in Ponsonby, Auckland. She completed RIE® FoundationsTM in 2011 with Polly Elam and Sharon Smith.