It should come as no real surprise that a career as an early childhood teacher is neither highly valued nor is it an often-recommended pathway for young adults.
Parents want the best for their children when it comes to their teachers, but often would not want their child to grow up to be an early childhood teacher.
This is a significant paradox that permeates the sector.
Our nation discourages a career in early childhood education (ECE) by its fundamental social and structural discriminations in status and pay.
The Government’s new Early Learning Action Plan for the next 10 years, however, is a much-needed source of energy and direction for the sector.
The plan recognises a broad range of comprehensive issues and goals, which demand a new coming together for the ECE’s many communities and organisations.
Coming together is perhaps the biggest challenge.
There are bound to be ongoing points of disagreement, diversities of interpretation, and tensions between different values and beliefs.
These are enduring aspects of the early childhood sector and reflect its complexity as a non-compulsory education sector when compared to primary and secondary schools.
If the plan is going to achieve its goals, approaching the complex nature of the sector with a sense of openness to this difference is critical.
It is vital to have an ongoing discussion that reflects a shared national commitment to ECE.
One of the action plan’s goals is to boost the teacher supply. This is an issue that is influenced by many factors, including teacher working conditions, professional status, and qualification pathways.
If this Government takes seriously the wellbeing of the learner, then it must take seriously the wellbeing of the teacher.
Attention to working conditions in the plan is an important step in the right direction. It is a significant issue for which sustained debate and action is vital if the wellbeing of children is to be taken seriously.
Issues include the quality of centre environments, opportunities for professional learning and networking, addressing ratios and groups sizes, more non-contact time, and compensation for all the planning that teachers must do in their own time – to name just a few.
In order to realise the goals of the action plan, and the wider goals for child and youth wellbeing, the nation will take very important steps with a comprehensive and public review of the working conditions that impact on teacher wellbeing.
These steps require taking seriously the already existent work of teacher advocacy groups and ensuring that all early childhood teachers feel confident to share their experiences.
Dr Andrew Gibbons is an associate professor at the Auckland University of Technology, specialising in early childhood education.