The Image of the Teacher
By Beth MacDonald
Beth MacDonald is the founder and director of MacDonald Montessori School in St. Paul, Minnesota, a Reggio-inspired school celebrating its 29th year in early childhood education. She has been a NAREA board member from 2002.
The educators in the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy have spoken often over the last 50 years of the strong image of the child that is at the heart of their philosophy. This image of the child is one of the three protagonists of their approach—parents, teachers and children. I have also observed a change in their choice of words in the last few years—the word “teacher” is being substituted by the word “adults”. I surmised they might feel the word “adult” is stronger and it includes all adults who partner with children. I also thought perhaps the word “teacher”, which includes the word “teach”, is inconsistent with their thinking about adults as co-learners with children rather than “teaching” concepts to children, which is a much more interactive, inclusive approach to education—another core value of the Reggio Emilia approach.
With all this focus on the image of the child, I wondered: Do we, as early childhood educators and directors, have an equally strong image of teachers—the adults who partner in learning with young children every day? Do we see teachers as strong, competent, and rich in possibilities, or do we see them as needy, weak, and wanting our support? Do we see early childhood teachers who care physically for very young children—infants through school age—as professional babysitters or nannies? Do the parents in our schools view them that way as well? Do our salary and benefits packages reflect a weaker, lesser view of teachers? Is there an industry salary scale and view of early childhood teachers that ranks them lower than elementary or secondary teachers?
I am amazed each time I interview new staff for our program and hear their description of previous early childhood employers, who:
Over and over, the parents in our program say, “The most valuable aspect of your program is the joyful, committed, quality teachers who care and educate our children every day.” Do early childhood programs see and support the most valuable part of the program—joyful, committed, quality teachers? Do early childhood programs have a strong image of its teachers—an image that embraces and supports competency, complexity, creativity, experience, and expertise? Do we embrace an image of teachers who are listened to, respected, supported, and encouraged and who are also critiqued and held to high level of responsibility and dedication to improving the life of children and families?
The benefits of embracing a strong image of teachers in our programs is directly appreciated by those teachers and those same qualities of joy, commitment, competency, creativity, community, and collaboration are magnified and infused into our early childhood programs affecting children, parents, and families. Responsibility, respect, encouragement, listening, shared decision-making, inclusion, and professionalism create more of the same. These values then deepen and enrich the lives of our teachers, and loyalty, ownership, pride, joy, and enthusiasm return to our programs tenfold.
Together, we are empowering exceptional education.