Diary of an Early Childhood Studies student: 3rd year stresses and successes


Kezia Thurgood-Parkes, a final year ECS student at Sheffield Hallam, is battling strikes and coronavirus while writing her final dissertation

It’s been an eventful year to say the least. Starting the third year felt fairly daunting, knowing I had a dissertation to do, on top of my other modules, whilst also attending placement to complete my research for my dissertation.

I am now in my second semester and have already completed two of my five modules for this year. My dissertation and research project is classed as the third module for both semester one and two but is completed in semester two. It spans over the whole year due to the size of the dissertation being the equivalent of over two assignments.

Modules and research

My core module from last semester was Ethical Leadership in Early Childhood, in which I am happy to say I achieved 72%. This module involved completing research in my placement and interviewing the leader of the placement setting (usually the headteacher) about their approach to leadership. Reading was a particular focus as it was one of my school's areas for development. The assignment was a presentation on my research with a supporting commentary. I really liked this module - I achieve my best marks when I am assessed on this type of assignment. I am more comfortable and confident presenting to others, rather than writing an essay or completing an exam.

My second module was my elective module, meaning I chose it. I decided on ‘Therapeutic Approaches with Children and Young People’. Unfortunately, I didn’t do as well as I had hoped in this assignment and I achieved 64%. I can’t lie that I was disappointed with my mark, as every grade can count towards my final degree classification. However it is still a solid grade, therefore I have to think positively. I did really enjoy the module; it was a vastly different type of learning from any other module I had done before on the course. It was very practical, and each seminar was a taster of a different therapeutic approach that could be used with children and young people, for example, art therapy, music therapy or play therapy. The assignment involved writing a reflective log about my overall experience and views of the practical seminars on the module as well as giving specific focus to one seminar. I chose to focus on art therapy, which I had been told was particularly hard, but I enjoyed that seminar the most. From receiving my feedback so far, it is obvious that marking has become more rigorous due to being in final year. Tutors have more expectations about us being critical thinkers and looking at both sides of the argument. Sometimes it feels like it is hard to consistently get high grades as each assignment is different - some work to your strengths, whereas others do not.

My dissertation research took place in my placement setting and is on male workers in early years. The title is, ‘Men Working in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) – an Exploration into Different Perspectives’. My research involved conducting interviews with has a male Reception teacher at my setting, a headteacher, an educator working on an early years university course and a male lecturer working on an early childhood course. The research was successful, making many links to current themes around men working in ECEC, such as the barriers men encounter and benefits of male practitioners. I completed my research at the start of the year, and I am now in the process of writing up my dissertation to be submitted in May.

Placement

My placement in an infant school ended in March this year. I’d been there for the past two years. I was really sad to go; I have really loved every minute of it. The whole school was a lovely environment to work in and I really felt like the staff valued me, even though I am just a placement student. This can be one of the biggest challenges - feeling like you belong in placement settings. The change this year was that I was moved from the Reception class to Year 2. This was a completely different experience, especially as the Year 2s are the oldest in the school, which meant that the children were much more independent and the daily routine was different. Children in Year 2 obviously have the lead up to SATs which meant more maths, reading, writing and phonics and no play. I also had the opportunity to join in with Forest Schools each Friday which was an amazing experience, one which staff and children loved equally. Although I loved the classroom and the kids, I still think I prefer working with children who are younger due to the learning environment having a mixture of some formal teaching with play-based learning. Also the young ones are just so small and sweet! I plan to stay in contact with my placement and if I do have any free time, I would love to volunteer for them again.

Sadly, I no longer work in Sheffield Hallam University Nursery: I stopped working before the start of third year. I felt it was important to spend my final year focusing solely on my assignments. However, the main reason for leaving was due to my qualifications (or lack of). The nursery informed me that they were updating their policies and noticed that I did not have a Level 3 in Childcare as I did A-Levels instead. Therefore, I was technically not qualified enough. I had the choice to stay but I would have always had to have another member of staff with me at all times and I could not be left with the children. I agreed to this at the beginning, but after a couple of weeks, I struggled with the lack of independence and relying on others. I was so sad to leave after being a casual nursery worker there for two and a half years. It was a wonderful job where I gained great experience and made friends for life, so I’m not complaining!

Uncertain times

This leads me to the current situation. Weeks of lecturer strikes on top of a global pandemic isn’t exactly ideal for my final year of uni and there has been a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. In semester one, most of my tutors went on strike for eight days as a result of union action in relation to workload, pay and other factors. We lost nearly two weeks of teaching, to only be told strikes would also be happening in semester two as well. However, this time it was 14 days over a four-week period starting on 20th of February into March. All of my tutors and my academic supervisor went on strike apart from one tutor. In total I missed four weeks’ worth of teaching with only two seminars that one tutor, who didn’t strike, led. We didn’t receive any module content as we were told this goes against the reasoning for the strike.

Now, with the impact of COVID-19, there have been a total of seven weeks of face-to-face teaching lost. Initially we were informed that this would not have a huge impact on us, however it eventually led to teaching moving online (with PowerPoints provided) and all buildings closing, including the library, and then to deadlines being extended. My research project has been the only extension - we have been given an additional three weeks which is very helpful, and all submissions have moved from physical to online. There is now more panic than ever from students, with petitions being signed in order to try and save our degree classifications from being negatively affected. I have had many conversations with my tutors trying to explain that it is inevitable that everything that has gone on is going to impact on the quality of our assignments. Not only have we hardly been taught, and had to teach ourselves, but we also have a global pandemic going on which will impact each individual differently. Personally, I feel the real cause for concern is the mental health of students. I’ve found this a very stressful time and I am worried about this affecting my degree as well as worrying about my own family back at home during these uncertain times. Sadly, there are no signs that there will be changes to the two assignments. I am being expected to produce assignments to the standard that would be expected of students from previous years, who were taught all the content and in very different circumstances than the one we are currently in. My only hope is that there will be leniency in marking due to the extenuating circumstances.

Stuck at home

So this is where I am currently at - trying to complete assignments and get my degree in such uncertain times. My original plan once I finished uni was to go travelling around Australia, Fiji and New Zealand over summer with my boyfriend, but I’m devastated to say that it has had to be cancelled due to the current health pandemic. I will be staying in my uni flat for the foreseeable future, that is until lockdown is eased and I can visit home and see my family who I haven’t seen since January. I can stay in my flat until the end of July, however, that can always be extended over summer until my tenancy starts again in September.

My plan is to start my PGCE in primary (aged 3-7) at Sheffield Hallam in September. I had an opportunity to get interviews early through an elective module I took in in second year. I had my interview in May last year and gained a conditional offer. All I had to do was apply through UCAS last October and I was immediately offered a place. I feel very fortunate that I had this chance as it meant I didn’t have to think about prepping for an interview, alongside my assignments. So fingers crossed I get a 2:2 or above and get on it!

My plan B if I do not meet the conditions of a 2:2 would be to apply for jobs, such as a teaching assistant job, in a primary school setting. I enjoy the work and environment, and I can apply my knowledge gained from my degree. It is safe to say 2020 has been a tough year for many people in many situations, all across the world, but in terms of a student experience doesn’t get much more challenging. Final year is stressful enough without all the additional factors experienced this year. But I’m sure we will all come out of the other side of this as stronger people and stronger students who can cope with anything life throws us - that’s my hope anyway.

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