Liv Torunn Eik has spent many years teaching early childhood educators, but she was curious about what happened with the graduates once they started working in kindergartens.
For her PhD project, she observed and interviewed six recently graduated early childhood educators during their first year of work. All six participated in the national mentorship programme for recent graduates, which offers new kindergarten teachers the opportunity to be mentored by seasoned colleagues.
LITTLE INFORMATION AND FOLLOW UP
The new kindergarten teachers were welcomed when they started working in the kindergartens. However, none of the kindergartens offered any introductory programme for them. None offered a buddy system. None provided written information about the kindergartens’ day-to-day routines. Other than getting some guidance once a month, there was little follow up of the new kindergarten teachers at all. Only one of the six even had an introductory talk with the head kindergarten teacher.
‘JUST ASK IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS’
Kindergartens are complex organisations with many traditions, routines and rules, both written and unwritten. New employees usually have many questions since they will often be doing a great many things for the first time: parent-teacher meetings, parent-teacher conferences, leading meetings, drawing up plans, etc.
‘Just ask if you have any questions’, said colleagues and the head teacher to their new colleague. However, it is not easy to squeeze questions into a busy schedule.
CLASH BETWEEN EDUCATION AND PRACTICE
‘The six recently graduated preschool teachers mastered the educational aspects of their work with the children after a few months. Yet they found it difficult to act as supervisors, translating their theoretical knowledge into wise words of advice for assistants, especially for those who were older and more experienced than they themselves’, explains Eik.
‘The recent graduates encouraged children to play and explore and they talked with them a lot. At mealtimes, they often engaged in conversations about things that interested the children. Such conversations were frequently interrupted by assistants, eager to clear the table quickly after a meal. In the cloakroom, the recent graduates tried to give the children time to dress themselves, while the assistants often dressed them. The latter were aiming to be quick and efficient.’
Eik is of the opinion that there are many potential points of conflict between kindergarten teachers’ focus on educational opportunities, and assistants’ desire for swift, efficient meals, dressing operations and nappy changes.
OFTEN INTERRUPTED WHILE IN GOOD LEARNING SITUATIONS
Educational work in kindergartens takes place through interaction between the children and the personnel in all situations throughout the day, and is not limited to circle times and other planned activities. It calls for expertise to identify and take advantage of the educational opportunities that arise in kindergarten.
‘I noticed that the recent graduates did a lot of good work in their interaction with the children. They weren’t as focussed on the rules, and they encouraged children’s independence and curiosity, but they failed to explain the rationale for their actions, and they allowed themselves to be interrupted. As a result, their knowledge and pedagogical work were not obvious to assistants caught up against the backdrop of day-to-day routines. Many good learning situations were interrupted rather than being shared with the assistants so that staff could learn together’, recounts the researcher.
SWITCH TO COLLOQUIAL LANGUAGE
‘When the new kindergarten teachers first started working, they used quite a few technical terms. Once they had settled in, they switched to increasingly colloquial language’, adds the researcher.
‘The ideology of equality is strong in kindergarten culture. Most tasks are performed by teachers and assistants alike. Everyone does their fair share of the practical work. The new kindergarten teachers were frustrated by the fact that practical duties stole time from their educational work with the children.
‘Practical knowledge appeared to take precedence over theoretical knowledge. This permeated the views of the new kindergarten teachers, who felt that more attention was devoted to their lack of experience than to their fresh theoretical knowledge. The new kindergarten teachers experienced little demand for what they brought with them from teacher training.
‘It is hard to advocate for theoretical knowledge when you are new and in the minority’, Eik ventures to say.
DIFFICULT TO DEVELOP A KINDERGARTEN
It is mandatory to have trained early childhood educators in Norwegian kindergartens. The theoretical knowledge of the kindergarten teachers is important for the quality of the educational work. ‘If all the attention were devoted to practical knowledge, it would be difficult to develop kindergartens further’, remarks the researcher.
‘It is important to see the workplace through the eyes of new employees. They may need to ask questions about matters that other employees take for granted, but they also bring with them new perspectives and knowledge. Sadly, kindergartens do not seem to be taking advantage of this opportunity, assuming my study is correct. There was little interest in the opinions and knowledge of the recent graduates with one exception: their IT (information technology) skills were in demand.
‘The recent graduates generally tried to fit in, adapting to current practices in the kindergarten. They were not involved in reciprocal learning processes with the rest of the staff to any great extent and their academic knowledge was rarely shared.
‘My research brings to light factors in the kindergarten culture that may inhibit knowledge-sharing between the kindergarten teachers and the rest of the staff’, Eik says, summing up. ‘The educators must put their knowledge into words and continue to develop it together with the rest of the staff, facilitating a confluence of theory and practice.’