I’ve just read a very thought­ful paper on pro­fes­sion­al prac­tice as it relates to the ear­ly care of chil­dren. It was­n’t writ­ten by an Amer­i­can researcher. I can’t quite tell you why it is that much of what is writ­ten for the Amer­i­can aca­d­e­m­ic mar­ket is bound up total­ly in the­o­ry — those who write appear to have rarely had any long term expe­ri­ence phys­i­cal­ly work­ing in ear­ly care.

Hav­ing read this paper it remind­ed me of the grave con­cern I have about the train­ing of teach­ers, at all lev­els. I was recent­ly in the com­pa­ny of an ele­men­tary school teacher and her two chil­dren — there is some­thing about her lack of com­pas­sion and the man­age­ment of her own chil­dren that tells me that despite prob­a­bly ten years of teach­ing expe­ri­ence she lacks a depth and philo­soph­i­cal sub­stance to her work; reflect­ed in ‘the miss­ing puz­zle pieces that I can’t quite put my fin­ger on’ in her own children.

Teach­ing fre­quent­ly requires plen­ty of doc­u­men­ta­tion but not much com­pas­sion or warmth even in class­es for the under-five’s. Those chil­dren are real­ly still babies and will, for the most part, not have had time to actu­al­ly be babies in the true sense of the word — ever — since they were most­ly like­ly in care from the time they were just a few months old.

Now that I under­stand so well the nature of learn­ing to talk and learn­ing to be human and the fac­tors which afford the best devel­op­ment to occur, I am fre­quent­ly dis­tressed at the impov­er­ished nature of the care and teach­ing most young chil­dren receive dur­ing the five days a week they are in care.

Even the most well-mean­ing teacher train­ing pro­gramme can’t turn out com­pas­sion­ate teach­ers — I sus­pect it’s not even one of their pro­gramme goals. How can you have a teacher train­ing pro­gramme where a young per­son, most­ly young women, spends four or more years in the aca­d­e­m­ic world and does not get out into the class­room until their intern­ship, right before they graduate!

One of the ben­e­fits of my own teacher train­ing was the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be in schools vir­tu­al­ly from the moment I start­ed my course. Those days in class­rooms were crit­i­cal to my own per­son­al devel­op­ment and I can now see that, and my own edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ences, became the cat­a­lysts to my under­stand­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly of dis­ad­van­taged children.

When an Amer­i­can Montes­sori Soci­ety (AMS) teacher train­ing pro­gramme lasts six weeks and when in my expe­ri­ence there is lit­tle to no super­vi­sion of a teacher once they start teach­ing, exact­ly what sort of teacher do you think will be the out­come? The qual­i­ty I’ve observed is: poor to impov­er­ished. On the oth­er hand where an indi­vid­ual has tak­en the Asso­ci­a­tion Montes­sori Inter­na­tionale (AMI – the more tra­di­tion­al and much longer Euro­pean Montes­sori two-year diplo­ma course) there is a bet­ter result.

The last issue with devel­op­ing qual­i­ty teach­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly for the under-five’s, is the poor pay scale and lack of ben­e­fits, regard­less of whether the teacher has a degree. The man­age­ment of a pri­vate, unsub­si­dized pre-school/­day­care pre­cludes pay­ing staff at a lev­el com­men­su­rate with their abil­i­ties and thus there is a con­stant turnover of employ­ees. Of course some respon­si­bil­i­ty rests with the man­age­ment and peo­ple skills of the own­er of any school as to how hap­py their staff is and whether or not they stay put. 

Every child should have the ben­e­fit of hav­ing the same teach­ers for the first five years of their lives. I have lost count of the num­ber of dif­fer­ent teach­ers who passed through the facil­i­ty where I worked for four years — it frankly hor­ri­fied me and my con­science forced me to stay on in the job sim­ply to pro­vide at least the min­i­mum of con­ti­nu­ity of care rec­om­mend­ed for all chil­dren under age five. Accord­ing to my cal­cu­la­tions, once I left the staff turnover per­cent­age went over the 80% mark!

We need to come to terms with the tragedy of ear­ly child­hood care — it sim­ply isn’t work­ing to pro­vide chil­dren with the best pos­si­ble start. Some com­pro­mis­es (prob­a­bly parental!) are need­ed so that it isn’t the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the pub­lic school sys­tem to pick up the slack, finan­cial­ly and phys­i­cal­ly, of ear­ly child­hood devel­op­men­tal neglect.

The time has come!