The passion of the early years practitioner

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We were interested to read that TACTYC is celebrating 40 years of existence this year and took some time to look at the latest edition of their journal  Early Years: An International Research Journal.  The foreword is written by Sacha Powell who quotes one of the founder members of TACTYC, Janet Moyles, who refers to the passion early years practitioners have for their profession. This struck a chord with us because we had the very same week met with a book publisher who had discussed with us how impressed she had been with the values and vision of the many Early Childhood students she had met with.

Practitioners will define passion in different ways depending on the context they are working within but certainly it is a word that practitioners often use (Moyles, 2001), or some might say overuse, to describe how they engage with their work. But what do they actually mean when they use the word ‘passion’, do practitioners have a shared understanding and why might this matter? Colley (2006) uses the term ‘emotional labour’ to describe the passion and commitment to their vocation that practitioners can adopt but warns at the same time that this disposition is one that can be taken advantage of. Moyles (2001) holds a similar view suggesting that this passion ‘can work for or against them’ (p. 81).  However, she also demonstrates how this passion can be harnessed both for the good of children and the workforce in general by providing opportunities for practitioners to work with researchers and engage in critical reflection on this element of their role.

However rewarding it may be working with young children and their families it is recognised that this is not a job for the faint hearted. There are many reasons that people want to work with young children (Cooke and Lawton, 2008). Many will want to have a positive impact on outcomes for young children’s lives; for example, Koch and Farquhar (2015) cite Williams’ assertion (2011) that they have ‘a desire to be involved in something socially significant’ (p. 381). Yet at the same time they are not rewarded financially for this important work and their voices ‘are rarely heard’ (Brownhill and Oates, 2016, p. 658). It seems that practitioners have this passion when they enter the sector but how do they manage to maintain it in difficult circumstances?

We think passion can be seen as resilience, creativity and wanting to be an agent of change; these are characteristics that have always defined those who work with young children. Passion may be an overused word but without it how could we remain motivated on such a rewarding but difficult task. What about you?  Do you feel passionate about the work you do with young children? How do you keep going and stay motivated with the many challenges you can find in the work place? Please do share your thoughts with us.

3 thoughts on “The passion of the early years practitioner

  1. This is a great article to read! I absolutely would use the phrase ‘I am passionate about working with children’ while being a student on a level three course, on the interviews for jobs that I had and at the beginning of those jobs. I had high hopes of being able to provide positive experiences and help children shape the futures that they deserve and all the other fancy ideologies they sold to us on that course. I even remember one interview asking about my experience with children with my freshly printed childcare and education certificate, my answer was “I have some but not in this type of job role but you can view that as a blank slate to work with.” I thought that this would mean they can train me the way that they want their employees to be, with my ‘passion’ and high hopes. I had three job offers to choose from and I picked the one that I thought was best. It went well to begin with, I saw the running of the nursery and just assumed that this is how it was. My first appraisal gave me a ‘good to outstanding’ rating but I became unhappy. I thought it was just me and maybe this wasn’t the job for me, had the opportunity to move nursery, same company but closer to home and I took it. The final appraisal 18 months after the first was ‘needs improvement’. I did everything they asked me to whether I agreed with it or not, challenging them about things was frowned upon and just landed you with being a troublemaker. I was so unhappy and still just assumed it was me so I left that job and focused on my own children instead. The turnover of staff in nurseries is high because we enter with that passion that deflates when we see things we can’t change and how insignificant we can be in terms of value or wages. It has put me off of going back to a nursery but I still belong working with children. It’s not like that in all nurseries I know some are fantastic and I know how to find them if I change me mind. My advice to anyone is to ask about staff turnover, if it is less than two a year then there will still be plenty of ‘passion’ for working in early years.

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    • Hi Carina. Thank you for your really thoughtful comment. Your sentence “The turnover of staff in nurseries is high because we enter with that passion that deflates when we see things we can’t change and how insignificant we can be in terms of value or wages” is really poignant and has got us reflecting on how we could prevent practitioners’ passion from being diminished.

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