‘I appreciate every lesson I’ve learnt’

Mary McAleese
Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Early years teacher trainee Mary McAleese explains the joys and challenges of practice, how she has increasing respect for her fellow practitioners and why, for her, the dimension of university study is so important.

'If you do not love what you learn then the children will not love what you teach,' says trainee teacher Mary McAleese.
'If you do not love what you learn then the children will not love what you teach,' says trainee teacher Mary McAleese.

Becoming an early years teacher is like running headfirst into the freezing cold ocean. It may seem like a foolish idea. In early years the hours are long, the pay is famously low, and there will always be someone who says ‘don’t work with children’. However, once you’re in, it’s great. You’re swimming around and willing all your friends to join you.

I have been working in a nursery for over a year now and there have been many pros and some cons during my time as an early year’s practitioner so far.

The EYFS for example, has things I still strive to securely complete as a woman in her mid-20s. The job is a mix of thinking, ‘wow, are they really learning something great here or have we all been running around in circles for 15 minutes for no reason?’. And have we really been stimulating the sponge-like brain of a fascinated pre-schooler by delivering a world class activity involving volcanoes and counting to 25?

Being an early years teacher trainee has opened my eyes to endless opportunities within the early years department. Extraordinarily, changing the curriculum (or even just having my say) is actually a realistic and achievable goal.

‘Knowledge is power...’
There is so much to enjoy as a trainee; it’s not all 12-hour days and countless meetings. There are many roads of childcare education to travel down. Psychology, social construction, education reform, attachment theories, creative arts, physical development and so much more.

Because the Early Years Teacher Training (EYTT) course is designed with such broad scope it gives you a sneak peek at all these areas. Working full time in a nursery alongside studying is one of the best benefits of being a trainee teacher. Having a lecture at university one day, and then seeing the effects discussed in the lecture performed by children in front of your eyes is a not-to-be-missed experience. My favourite pastime is turning to my colleagues and saying ‘look, they’re doing it!’

If I am completely honest, being an EYT isn’t always easy. Children are the most ‘whiplash’ type of people. One minute you’re all singing a fantastic new educational song and the whole room is laughing, while the next minute some poor little human has literally spilt milk and is in the throes of a full temper tantrum. Meanwhile, there is a child in the corner gluing Pritt-Sticks to the wall to make a ‘ladder’. Added to that, your room leader is back from their lunch break in ten minutes and you don’t want them to think the pre-school has been hit by a blizzard in the hour they’ve been gone. Day to day, it can be stressful.

There is a lot to be said about the phrase ‘knowledge is power’. Since being a trainee teacher, I have really grown to see the value in having so much ‘knowledge’. Now I have engaged with my training for almost a whole year, there is a certain confidence I carry around my workplace and I hope I exude this when I become an enthusiastic play partner.

‘First love what you learn...’
Allowing children to make the first move in almost all learning is a brilliant way to teach. Free flow education is a rare gem of working for early years. This I learnt through research and professional conversations during my training and it is just one tool I refer to within in my daily practice.

Really knowing how to cope with this exhausting job and all its tips and tricks is the key to loving what you do. The things I have learnt at university and brought back to my practice are countless and I appreciate every lesson I’ve learnt. The broadening scope of theory that a trainee teacher is offered throughout their degree has lasting effects on the children that learn from them.

The value of a great practitioner becomes obvious when you are surrounded by them. Resourceful minds keep a team of teachers going. Developing strategies in the nursery to help everybody’s day is a necessary part of training and is a concrete method to getting on with staff colleagues. Following the Teacher Standard Guidance is not to be underrated. It is like having a Life-Document called ‘How to be a Good Person’ and marking yourself against it every week to keep on track.

I recommend working in early years to anyone who tells me they do not love their job. However, since being a trainee and deepening my knowledge in all things early years I have a new respect for the hard work of all qualified teachers.

Not anyone could do what we do and for that, I congratulate us all. So now, I recommend studying early years first. If you do not love what you learn then the children will not love what you teach, and no child can learn without love.

 

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