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Keep love and passion where they belong: the final provocation in this series from Jennifer Ribarovski

provocation passion Amplify jennifer ribarovski
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This is my final blog in a series of provocations, and it would be irresponsible as the delegated provocateur not to save the most controversial for last!  Today I’ll be discussing the way that language frames both perceptions and practice, and can serve to either uplift or oppress early childhood education and care (ECEC) as a sector.

For example, if our language always focuses on care, and education doesn’t get a look in, then are we reinforcing the maternalistic view of ECEC as women’s work?

Or if we continue to describe ECEC as an industry, are we, albeit unconsciously, supporting the government’s agenda in seeing ECEC as a commercial enterprise to support workforce participation?

I have a million more examples, but the focus for this final blog is on two little words that are commonly used to describe the necessary attributes of teachers and educators – love and passion.

More and more often, I see these words used in recruitment advertisements, to describe both the necessary requirements for employment, and also the essential skills and attributes of an educator or teacher.  This leads me to the next logical questions. Are love and passion essential ‘requirements’ for teachers and educators, and therefore how can knowledgeable, skilled and professional educators and teachers do their jobs effectively, if they don’t identify with these feelings of love and passion?

I question the authenticity of the expectation that teachers and educators love all children, and I worry about the impact on their sense of identity if they don’t.

To be brutally honest, over my many years as a teacher, there were plenty of children in my centres and classrooms that I didn’t particularly like, let alone love.  In practice, that meant that I worked even harder on interacting with them in positive, respectful ways, and of ensuring that I was fair, inclusive and equitable.  Being honest about my feelings challenged me to critique my own teaching practices, and to reflect on how I could improve.

Alongside of love, passion is becoming more and more evident in the linguistic landscape of ECE.  The Oxford dictionary describes passion as a strong and barely controllable emotion.  Historically, it’s been used to describe intense emotions and desires, often associated with intimate relationships or emotion fuelled crimes.

I understand the resonance of passion in ECE terms.  Teachers and educators often have to push hard for their professional rights, for the rights of children, for the resources and support required to do their jobs.  They draw on their commitment, creativity, resilience, patience and persistence in this cause.  This requires them to be strategic, thoughtful, professional and often to have courage under fire: the very skills and abilities that, in the heat of passion, would be the first to go.  Interestingly, the use of the word passion as a descriptor for teachers has made little leeway into descriptors of skills or requirements for primary or high school teachers.

But they’re just words right, so why does it even matter?  Well, it matters because language shapes public perception, which in turn influences public policy, which provides the foundation for the provision of early childhood education in Australia.  It matters because the words make it sound as though we are educators by emotion rather than profession and, as a recent ECE union campaign would say, love doesn’t pay the bills.

So, my final pondering for Amplify! is this:

“Do love and passion belong in your job advertisement, or the home?”


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Jennifer Ribarovski

Jennifer Ribarovski has over thirty years experience in the education sector, including playing a key role in the implementation of the National Quality Framework for both the NSW Regulatory Authority and the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).

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12 thoughts on “Keep love and passion where they belong: the final provocation in this series from Jennifer Ribarovski

  1. Love and passion.
    I too understand where ECEC folk are coming from when they use these terms, and perhaps terms like these are very much routine vocabulary, however (yes, ‘however’), in a profession largely made up of females, when using these terms, we are not only reinforcing maternalistic views, but are we contributing to the complex issues of the few males in ECEC by coining terms such as these? Are we doing both females and males an injustice? I think I know what Anne Stonehouse would say.
    Watch any reality TV show these days, the tears usually accompany these terms “I am so passionate about cooking/singing, I have wanted to do this my whole life?”.
    All we do and all we are is a story. Let’s tell that story. What do we really mean when we say the words ‘passion and love’. I suspect each story might be a little different, and the richness of those stories should be celebrated.

    1. Hi Molly. Yes I wonder whether the use of this kind of language contributes to the exclusion of males in ECEC. As you say, all that we are is a story, and here’s one from just this week to illustrate my point. I was teaching my students at Sydney University on Monday in one of my classes that includes two young men. The topic for the week was child protection. I covered the statistics on male versus female EC workforce participation, discussed the factors that might be contributing to the low take up of males in the profession, and pointed the group to a number of support networks (including of course MENu). In the course of the discussion, I asked the students (1st year post grads); why they had decided to take up EC teaching as a profession. As is prone to happen ,a chorus of “I love children’, and I’m passionate about children” ensued. The two young men, usually eager participants in group discussions, were unusually quiet. I asked one directly “and you *Mark*? Do you love children?” He looked at me quizzically, and then said “no, Jen, that would just sound creepy. But I think children are interesting and fun, and I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of hearing their cool take on things.” I reflected on two things after this. Whether the language we use serves to exclude rather than include, and what an amazing teacher this young man is likely to become. Not because he is male, but because he is already fascinated about and ready to really tune in to children.

      1. Molly, meet Jennifer….Jennifer, meet Molly! The two of you are both presenting at the ACA NSW conference at the end of June. I cant wait to have such critical thinkers sharing their ideas with our delegates.

        1. Hi Lauren, how great to be able to chat with you in this wonderful new forum. Molly and I are actually good mates and have had several critical discussions, in some very interesting venues! It would be great to catch up again at the ACA NSW Conference, which I’m really looking forward to, but I think Molly is on the Saturday and I’m on the Sunday!

  2. I remember a campaign for wages and professional status for nurses in the late 1980’s which marched under the banner ‘Dedication doesn’t pay the rent’. I marched too, feeling that my ‘dedication’ or ‘passion’ for the role was being used as a weapon – the role was only those who had the passion – and for those for whom acknowledgement and pay rates didn’t matter.

    Today I see the use of the word ‘passion’ differently. This word describes my personal battery, that supply of energy that I need for doing what I do. I am careful to look after that passion, taking care of myself, networking with those who inspire me, continually researching and learning, and knowing what to look for when I reflect on whether I need a ‘top up’ chat with a friend.

    It takes passion to identify what you love do, to provide the energy for doing it and it takes a whole lot more passion to march for it!

    1. Hi Doreen. Thanks for your comments. I think there is something in the idea that professions that share elements of ‘caring’ are impacted by expectations that altruism should be what motivates them. But I also agree that this can be used against the sector, from both internal and external forces.

      Your description of the word passion and how it fuels your energy for your work really resonates with me. 🙂

  3. YES! A point I am constantly making to student teachers on my visits to universities. Can this piece be sent to every employer, every employer representative, every agency as a challenge to them to shift their language?

    I enjoy my work, in fact I really love it, but I want to be recognised for the skills and expertise I bring to that work, for the difference I make. In applying for a job I would want a prospective employer to be looking at betters markers and measures of me as a professional. My qualifications, my experience, my knowledge, my values, rather than my level of passion and enthusiasm. Those qualities are important but I do worry when they are overemphasised and feature so heavily in many job ads, especially when it’s offset against pay and conditions. I.e: “we’ll negotiate for the right candidate”. Is that code for: “only if you express enough passion?”

    1. Hi Martel. Thanks for your comments. In my view, there is more and more of this kind of language evident in job ads, and I think you’re on to something with the offsetting of ‘levels of passion’ for pay and conditions. The subjective nature of measuring passion puts employers in the driver’s seat, the way I see it. Wouldn’t a national campaign to shift the language be something? Count me in!!

  4. Hi Jennifer,
    As a long time early childhood person I really dislike the term industry and all it’s implications. Children and parents become clients or customers, we become product or outcome focused and business/corporate philosophy hijack the quality education and care agenda under the banner of efficiency. The terms love and passion are problematic too. To survive and thrive in early childhood education and care teachers and educators need to have a strong level of commitment, loyalty, social justice, resilience and dedication. When we use terms like passion and love to describe these characteristics it can undermine the professionalism of working with young children, reducing it back to ‘the pink ghetto’ or mothering perspective where ECEC is simply seen as an extension of the traditional nurturing role of women. It also suggests that we should do the job out of love rather than for appropriate professional remuneration and conditions. In a business model of ECEC employers need educators and teachers to ‘love’ working with children so they don’t have to pay them much for the privilege of doing so! Given the current rates of pay and public recognition it does seem that many of us are working in ECEC for ‘love’ rather than money!

    1. Hi Maree and thanks for your comment. I share your concern about the use of the word industry, and yet it’s an often used term in the sector, as are the words love and passion, more and more so in recruitment material. Just as we in the sector talk about practice being embedded, language also becomes embedded and a part of our everyday. Reflecting on language, and on whose interests are served by using it, is something that I think we need to do more of. When we do pause and think about why certain language is used in ECEC, it is, in my view, seldom about what’s in children’s best interests, but in response to a whole lot of other competing agendas, just as you have very clearly identified!

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