The environment is the third teacher, this much we know. That’s the Reggio way; we think of the space itself as a teacher, which, of course, it is – even when we don’t acknowledge it as such.
Then who are teacher one and teacher two? Teacher two, that’s the child – they teach me new things all the time. In Ontario, we are uniquely placed to have both a teacher and an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) in the classroom occupying the role of the first teacher (this year I’m extra lucky – we have two teachers and an ECE in our classroom – does that bring us to five teachers?).
The language around these relationships is fraught and still evolving. Is she my ECE? Does that make me her teacher? The power dynamics can be a minefield as some teachers have been uncomfortable sharing their space, their desks, and their expertise. ECEs have, in some cases, come into classrooms that are hostile to their presence and ignorant of their expertise. There have been hurtful comments about status and college vs. university education. Did you know that ECEs learn how to design a learning space, how to arrange centres, and, in many cases, how to create pedagogical documentation? They sure didn’t cover those things in my Bachelor of Education program! Parents too, have struggled with how to frame their relationships to these new professionals in the classroom. How can you ensure that important information about your child is communicated to both adults who have responsibility for her care? Is the teacher in charge of the ECE? Does the teacher supervise the ECE? No, but parents can be forgiven for their confusion. We are all still learning the steps of this new dance as we go.
Teaching has, for generations, been a very private enterprise. You close the classroom door and go about your business. Now, all of a sudden, we have to negotiate, discuss, communicate, and compromise – not just with children but with this other adult too – more skills they didn’t cover in teacher’s college!
I’m writing this tonight because I’m feeling wistful. My ECE – yes she’s mine, just like my husband is mine and my kids are mine, we belong to each other – is going on parental leave in a few weeks. I will miss her. We have broken each other in and, like a great pair of shoes, we fit.
Teaching with another adult these past two years has been a transformative experience for me. I have learned so much from both of the ECEs I’ve worked with. I learn just by watching her interact with kids, I learn when I see how she sets up a centre, how she coaches a child through putting on his socks (by taking off her own socks and patiently, oh so patiently, putting them on with the child), I learn when I see that she models play for the students who don’t yet know how to play imaginatively – she gets right in there and takes on a role. I also learn just by having another adult to bounce ideas and information around with. Her experience of the children can be, amazingly, quite different than mine and the conclusions she comes to are different too. I can’t rely so heavily on my own perceptions and I’m forced to really confront the subjectivity of my own assessment in a way that I never had to do when I was alone in the classroom. We can, and do, produce documentation on the same event – it looks quite different – imagine that!
So, while I’m sure that the new ECE coming into our class will be great, I will miss my ECE. These arranged professional marriages are tricky things, they need chemistry and luck, true… but most of all I think they need trust, respect, and a willingness to change, stretch, and grow. If we want our students to demonstrate these traits, we need to model them in ourselves… just like putting on those darn socks!