By CELA on 8 May, 2017

Oops! There it goes again!

It was one of those Facebook posts from a frustrated educator asking one of those questions – the kind they don’t want to ask in person but they really want to discuss.  “Does it make you a better educator if you have children of your own?”

During the most recent discussion of this question we read many thoughtful, heartfelt comments from educators both with and without children.  There was so much respect for the question and so much goodwill between commenters that we decided to take on the topic in Amplify! and several of you answered the call to contribute.

It’s a question that raises so many issues – for a start, why should anyone be asking about your parental status in terms of your work? (Read this great article on the subject in Women’s Agenda.)  And, as our regular contributor Jennifer Ribarovski sent in, the question also plays into the old chestnut of early childhood education being ‘women’s work’, with the assumption that because women can be mothers they will be naturally better at caring for small children.

So with a wealth of insight to choose from on this issue, here are our top three picks to carry the discussion on…

No, but let’s talk about empathy – Kelly Marie

Before I became a parent I had very strong ideas about how children should be raised. My future child would never use a dummy, they’d eat what they were given and they’d certainly never throw a tantrum in the checkout line at Woolworths. As someone who is very involved in online communities for educators all too often I see others complaining about children or parent’s behaviour, asserting that if they were the parent they would do things differently. That was me five years ago, I think.

It’s definitely not accurate to make a blanket claim that parents make better educators than non-parents. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and our skills and opinions are formed and moulded by personal experience. It stands to reason though that educators with children of their own bring something different to the workplace than those without. Being a parent gives you a first-hand insight into the issues parents face: the sleepless nights, the dinnertime battles, the endless trials and worries that come with being completely responsible for a tiny human being.

Having lived these struggles, I can talk to parents without judgement

As a parent myself I find it easy to empathise with the parents using my service. I know what it’s like to worry about my toddler not eating vegetables while simultaneously worrying if they’re eating enough food at all. I know what it’s like to leave my preverbal child at daycare after a tearful drop off and worry about whether or not they’re happy. I know what it’s like to slog through a day on four hours of broken sleep and not have the energy to argue with a wilful pre-schooler when we finally get home in the evening. Having lived these struggles, I can talk to parents experiencing them without judgement and without labels like “anxious” or “spoiled” floating in the back of my mind.

My experiences as a parent allow me to relate to and sympathise with the parents I interact with and I believe that this is where a parent-educator’s real advantage lies. Does being a parent automatically make you a better educator? Of course not, but it definitely helps when forming partnerships with parents based on shared experiences.

Kelly Marie works as an Early Childhood Teacher in Sydney while studying towards her Master of Teaching. A strong believer in the environment as the third teacher, Kelly’s programs focus on engaging learning environments which she documents on her Instagram account, @EarlyLearningAus.

Different doesn’t mean better –  Danielle Bopping

As an early childhood educator who has worked in the sector for 20 years this year, and who is still single and childless, this is a question that is often asked, directly, indirectly, consciously and subconsciously. It’s in the comments, “Oh, you don’t have your own children?”,  and the raised eyebrows that suggest, “Well how could you possibly know or understand then?”

For the record I am acutely aware, more than the many of those people (parents and colleagues) who are already lucky enough to be married or have found their soul mate and have been blessed with children, that I am not married and do not have children and that despite years of training, education and experience, it’s not the same as having your own children. I do not need to be reminded. However, just because I am not a parent it does not mean I am incapable of being an educator of the same quality as one who is a parent. Perhaps it allows me to be the better educator, as not having my own children affords me greater objectivity?

We don’t expect doctors to have had terminal illnesses…

Do my years of years of training, education and experience mean I have all the answers? Of course not. Similarly, just because an educator is a parent, it does not mean they have all the answers either. Being a parent or not, is not what determines someone to be a better quality educator.

Am I a different educator? Yes. Do we offer different perspectives and insights? I hope so. Do some of our approaches and interpretations on the many aspects of being educators vary? Quite probably. Do all of those vary because one of us is a parent and one isn’t? Probably not. Does that make one of us a better educator than the other? Of course not. Every educator brings to their role their own strengths; their own set of skills, talents, cultural knowledge, personal interests, passions, perspectives, experiences and empathies. It is the combination of all of these different aspects within a group of colleagues that provides richly diverse and multifaceted learning experiences for children.

We don’t expect doctors to have had terminal illnesses, chronic diseases or even broken bones to be able to treat their patients. We trust that with their industry research, knowledge of the most up to date information and practices, and previous experiences of practice, they will do what is exactly right for their patients. Why then would there be an assumption or expectation that to be a better quality educator, you need to have had your own children?

Danielle’s early childhood career began in 1997 when she completed an Advanced Diploma of Child Care Studies. Over the last 20 years, she has worked in a variety of early childhood settings, with children aged 0-12 years, in Australia, England, Ireland and Thailand. This has included roles as a nanny, pre-school music teacher, outdoor educator, OOSH assistant, room leader and Director.

Not nature or nurture, let’s focus on skills – Jennifer Ribarovski

This is an age-old question that has been debated over many years.  It is of course influenced by the evolving face of early childhood education and care (ECEC).  ECEC in Australia has been shaped historically, and essentially through a nationalist lens.

Since its inception in the late 1800s, ECEC has existed firstly to ‘save’ children, through to the mid 1900s, when it was primarily to cater for women who were working in war times, through to the 1960s onwards, which brought a focus on maternal employment and national productivity.

These historical influences are focused on maternalism, the cultural view that women are innate caregivers and therefore should be the primary caregiver for their child.  Why the history lesson?  Well as the renowned historian Edward Carr (1961) reminds us:

The function of the historian is neither to love the past nor to emancipate himself from the past, but to master and understand it as the key to the understanding of the present.

So, in response to the debate about whether parents make better educators, historical context helps me to frame my thinking.

As 97 % of the early childhood workforce are women, it’s not surprising that this debate rages on.  If women are ‘innate caregivers’, then it stands to reason that they would make better educators.  It also supports views such as those of Senator Lleyonhjelm (remember he believes educators are just nose wipers!)

If you innately know how to do something, why would you need qualifications?  And if you don’t need qualifications, then ECEC is not a profession worthy of equal pay.  How do male educators, or others who for whatever reason don’t have their own children, manage their role if they are not ‘innately wired’ to care for children?

The ability to tune into children, and connect with families, may well be sharpened by the shared experience of parenting. But as with any other profession, early childhood educators require the knowledge, skills and aptitudes to do their job well.

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).

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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