Professional identity; who am I and how do others see me?

A poignant post this week from an early years practitioner who wishes to remain anonymous.

Creeping towards 43 years old, with a career in early years that started when I was 16, I recently undertook a role as a nursery teacher in a maintained nursery class.  My experience within the early years sector is vast and varied and includes a variety of settings in the PVI sector.  Scaffolding this experience is my learning journey that has lead me to a masters qualification; I would say that I have found my vocation and the passion and enthusiasm that I have for supporting young children in the foundation for their futures continues to burn brightly.

So I know what my professional identity is; it is built on a commitment to continuing professional development and a continual reflexivity of being the best early years advocate that I can be… but how do others view me?

A local authority that I previously worked within made quality payments to settings that employed graduates. These were top up payments per hour, per child; 30p for an ‘early years teacher’ and 90p for a ‘qualified teacher’ (QTS) paid under teacher terms and conditions.  From what I can gather, this incentive is to encourage early years settings to employ a graduate; moreover, I would suggest that to a degree, this local authority values the contribution that graduates make to early years settings. However they still differentiate between an ‘early years teacher’ (a practitioner committed to early years) and a ‘qualified teacher’ with QTS.  I would like to note here that at the time I was employed within a PVI setting where I was often not counted in the ratio and given the freedom to develop my role based on the needs of the children. Furthermore, I was recognised and valued for the early years professional that I am.

When I applied for my current nursery teacher role, the head teacher and governing body were happy for me to apply with my early years professional status (EYPS); however, when it came to the job offer the post was offered on the unqualified teacher scale which is significantly lower than for teachers holding QTS.  My workload and job description is on par with other teachers; although I could argue more as I have responsibility for up to 60 children, split between two classes.

I have studied for almost 10 years to MA level, a journey which has propelled me from early years practitioner to knowledgeable, reflective and confident early years professional.  I have specialised in early years and undertaken the stringent assessment process for early years professional status however in the eyes of the local authority I am considered ‘unqualified’ and more importantly, everyday I face challenges that conflict with my professional and personal identity.

Recently, the ‘Early Years Workforce Strategy’ (2017) highlighted the need to grow the graduate early years workforce; however this recommendation has been dismissed and as recently as the beginning of this year it was suggested that a decline in uptake of places on specialist early years graduate programmes needs to be addressed to avoid losing early years teaching as a career option (Bayram, 2019).

Lawson (2019) suggests that with the current situation surrounding pay and conditions there is a risk that early years will become a profession where only those who can afford to work in it do so.  Luckily I am in a position to stand by what I believe in – however, I wonder if some who are not will find their professional and personal identify being compromised?

So where am I now? Secure in my knowledge of what is good practice when it comes to young children in early years settings, a committed and reflective practitioner who will continue to strive to be the most effective practitioner that I can be.

Thank you for your honesty and for reminding us of the issues that those who work in the early years sector face. We would welcome any responses and suggestions of ways forward.

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