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?
Meet the author
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).