Children remain at the centre of things
A child focused philosophy sustained Maria Whitcher throughout her almost 40-year career as an early childhood director.
Maria, who retired at Christmas, said child-led education has remained a constant feature of early childhood education since she graduated from the Sydney Kindergarten Teachers College (now Macquarie University) back in 1979.
Throughout her 34 years as director of Kiama Preschool, she always allowed the children to lead the education, and she is grateful that despite numerous regime changes, including the introduction of the Early Years Learning Framework, and Assessment and Ratings, the early childhood curriculum has remained focussed on the child’s needs.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, and as soon as I started in early childhood, I knew it was the right choice for me. I just felt comfortable straight away. I loved the flexibility of the curriculum that allowed you to work with the children rather than teach from the top down,” Maria said.
The biggest challenges Maria has faced as a director have come in the form of increased bureaucracy and changes in funding models. New criteria, procedures and process have been a headache.
“I’m not really sure if all this extra documentation has actually improved anything for the children. And not having guidelines for how much documentation is actually required for each child makes it difficult to know when to stop.”
On the positive, the respect and appreciation of early childhood education has increased, especially on the part of school teachers and parents.
“The transition from early childhood to school has improved over the years as teachers have learnt to understand the important role we play in the transition to school. There is now much more collaboration between school and early childhood.
“Parents too are understanding more about the importance of early childhood education.”
Maria was actively involved with the IEU as a member of the Early Childhood Services Council, attending rallies and acting as a witness during a pay case in the 1990s. She remains “cautiously optimistic” about the ongoing quest for early childhood teacher’s pay to match that of school teachers.
She said there is a growing understanding about the importance of early childhood teachers in the community, probably due to campaigns such as the IEU’s Teachers are Teachers.
Prior to COVID, Maria had planned to visit Sweden this year (her daughter lives there) and have a look at the Scandinavian model of early childhood education.
“I would love to see our schools in Kindergarten to Year 2 at least have a more play based curriculum.
“They do this really well in Sweden and I wanted to check it out.”
In the meantime, she is pottering in her garden and planning a retirement of yoga, possible even as a yoga teacher, volunteerism, studying languages and tackling a pile of novels.
This story is part of the IEU’s ‘Teachers r Teachers’ Enews for early childhood teachers. Read the rest of the stories below: