Congrats, Grad! A Q&A with Class of 2021 ECE Students
NAEYC asked a few 2021 ECE graduates about their experiences working to obtain their degree and what the future holds for them in the profession. Read what they have to say.
What’s something you learned in your coursework and field experiences studies that surprised you?
“Something that I have learned in my coursework that has surprised me is the value of self-care. Personally, I value self-care very much and it is one of my number one priorities. I do not know how I would have survived my student teaching experience through a pandemic if I did not utilize the tool of self-care. It is important for me to take care of myself because it allows me to take care of my students in much better and more attentive ways. My version of self-care was working out before school every day. This allowed me to focus my full attention on my students, colleagues, and community each and every day.” - Murphy Hicks (Keene State College; Keene, NH)
“I would have to say the biggest surprise for me was finding that I not only loved working with children, but that I was pretty great with them as well! I was surprised at how quickly my rewarding interactions turned into a passion and a purpose. I have come a long way through understanding, reflection, and personal growth, which indicates another lesson that I learned; just how inflexible I was. Thinking that I was very much the opposite, I found that I was unintentionally rigid, stuck in old ways and beliefs. I was surprised to learn how much I didn’t know about children and how underestimated and underappreciated child care professionals are. Before working with children, the professional development opportunities, research, and education, I was operating on the universal one-size fits all mindset about how children learn and grow. I was shocked to discover how much I had wrong and how different our world and the undervalued perspective of the child care industry might be if more people, parents, and caregivers were privy to the same epiphany.” - Jael Johnson (Community College of Philadelphia; Philadelphia, PA)
“Something that I learned in my coursework and field experiences and studies that surprised me was the staggering statistics of families that face hunger and nutrition issues. This is the result of food insecurities stemming from low-income situations. Which has in turn fortified my desire to continue to advocate for children and families in every way I can.” - Sara Matta (Harry S Truman College; Chicago, IL)
“What surprised me the most was how interesting and varied every day is when working with young children. I’ve had several different jobs before working with children, and often the days tend to look very similar. It’s always been difficult for me to feel fulfilled in my work when every day looks the same, and despite my initial passion for the Early Childhood profession, part of me worried that this work too would begin to feel mundane. Several years of both field experience and paid childcare work later, and every day still manages to feel new and exciting. That is how I know that I have found my calling, when I can feel fulfilled and excited about the work that I do every day.” - Emily Rimmasch (Weber State University; Ogden, UT)
“Something that I learned in my field experience that surprised me is that we always tell children what we expect them to do. For example, we say "walk" and we don't say "stop running." Learning this taught me how to set expectations in the classroom and at home with my own children.” - Jennifer De Leon (Del Mar College; Corpus Christie, TX)
In thinking about the children, families, and colleagues you’ll be working with, what are your wonders/hopes for your first year in the field?
“My hopes for my first year in the field when thinking about children, families and colleagues are that I will create strong relationships with everyone. My hopes for strong relationships with families and children is important for me because relationships make this field run smoothly. The relationships with children and families are so important because it allows both to trust me in that I have their entire family's best interest at heart. My hopes for having strong relationships with my colleagues is also extremely important to collaborate and work together as a team.”- Murphy Hicks (Keene State College; Keene, NH)
“I hope to be an advocate and champion for the exceptional young children who will shape our future. Working in early childhood education, I would like to work with children who may need just a bit more support. Helping children with special needs and their families navigate the challenges that face them, both in and outside the classroom, collaborating with coworkers on accommodations and supports, sharing resources with families, and assisting with guidance through the inevitable processing phase after receiving a new diagnosis. Having been there myself, I understand the difficulty of hearing such news and trying to process a myriad of feelings along with a mass of further information and resources and how overwhelming that can be. I want to be an asset to this field and help more exceptional children succeed alongside their peers. Collaborating with teachers, specialists, families, and children, I aim to ensure resources are utilized, accommodations are given, and strategies are explored. I want each child that passes through our program to feel safe, loved, and happy. I want to take the time to assess and address needs, adjust environments and approaches as necessary so that every child feels encouraged, supported, and capable. I want to have meaningful relationships with our children and their families and foster a community culture in our classrooms and throughout our school. Ultimately, I want to create learning environments where all students feel safe, happy, loved, included, respected, encouraged, supported, and successful in reaching learning and developmental goals.” - Jael Johnson (Community College of Philadelphia; Philadelphia, PA)
“I hope to support children, families, and colleagues when entering the field of Early Childhood Education. By providing resources and committing to provide each one with a sincere, engaging, and intentional foundation upon which to build a constructive relationship. In which communication is key to successful integration and cooperation of all parties involved.” - Sara Matta (Harry S Truman College; Chicago, IL)
“My biggest goal right now is to just get out there and get as much experience as I can. I am a fairly adaptable person, and I’m sure that no matter the people I am working with, I can find common ground and work to create a productive environment with them. That being said, my passion is working with those who need me the most, so I would love to work with children and families from my own neighborhood, which suffers from a great deal of income disparity. The people in my community need stability and understanding, and it is my hope that I can help to provide that. As for my colleagues, I hope to work with people who are equally committed to bettering our community and are willing to work as a team to bring about the best outcomes for the children and families in our care.” - Emily Rimmasch (Weber State University; Ogden, UT)
“I have been working for Head Start for 14 years. What I have learned with children in the classroom is to allow children to feel a part of the school, sense of belonging and they thrive to come to school and learn. What I have learned when working with families, is to always let the families know you are genuinely listening to their concerns and they feel a part of the center as well. In decision making in the classroom and in the center. Family partnership within the center is very important to build. What I have learned with my colleagues is to be an example to them. Not only be there to tell or ask them to do certain things that need to be done, but be by their side doing it with them. Having a positive attitude upon arrival and throughout the day, no matter what situations we come across with children, families, or colleagues.” - Jennifer De Leon (Del Mar College; Corpus Christie, TX)
What motivated you to be a part of the ECE profession?
“I remember becoming a substitute teacher in my first year of college. I completed my first day as a substitute teacher in a preschool classroom and one child said to me, "You are the best teacher, can you come back tomorrow?" This made me feel so elated. Ever since that moment, I have declared myself as an Early Education Major and never turned back because I love what these young children have to offer. Day in and day out they teach me so much about myself and themselves. I would not imagine my life in any other profession.” - Murphy Hicks (Keene State College; Keene, NH)
“For the most part, I did not particularly enjoy school while I was attending it. It had its moments, but I often felt alone and unseen by those around me. Shortly before I graduated high school, I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work with a group of young children. Working with them invigorated me in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time before that. Getting to see them work through problems and being able to help them facilitate growth and learning filled me with a sense of purpose and joy. From that time on, I knew that I wanted to be able to help people learn and grow, no matter their age. However I must admit that I do have an eternal soft spot for young children and the lessons that they teach me every day.” - Emily Rimmasch (Weber State University; Ogden, UT)
“What motivated me to stay in the ECE profession is that learning new techniques with children changes daily and as an educator, there's always room to learn new things in the field and I love seeing the outcome when working with children.” - Jennifer de Leon (Del Mar College; Corpus Christie, TX)
Looking back, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned about children’s development and learning [or early childhood education] that you’re excited to take into your field?
“The most important lesson I have learned about children's development and learning is that in one single classroom, I might have children who require previous grade level instruction or even the utilization of the early learning standards in that state. For example, I am going to be a kindergarten teacher next year in New Hampshire, and I am going to need to have and use the New Hampshire Early Learning Standards to meet some children's needs, and I might need to use the Common Core Standards for first graders to meet other children's needs. Especially with the pandemic, I have learned the importance of differentiated instruction and scaffolding for early childhood classrooms.” - Murphy Hicks (Keene State College; Keene, NH)
“There are many ways to learn, and we all learn differently. Children are capable of more than many adults give them credit for and, they need flexibility, empathy, and support, just like we all would want in life. They are also children! Often, with our busy lives and the stress of adult life, we forget to pack our patience and lose sight of the developmental appropriateness of children exploring boundaries and making questionable choices! Understanding psychological theories on development and learning helped me become intentional in my mindset, practices, and responses to the children in my life and my former program. I am thankful to be able to bring this with me into this field. I have also learned the benefits of incorporating daily mindfulness into routines and classroom environments. My research and experience implementing mindful strategies with children have been an asset in social-emotional development and very effective with children struggling with self-regulation challenges. I am also grateful and very excited to bring these strategies along with me into this field.” - Jael Johnson (Community College of Philadelphia; Philadelphia, PA)
“The most important lesson that I have learned about children’s development and learning for early childhood education that I am excited to take into my work thus far is the knowledge that a child is unique in the cultural, community, and societal factors that influence the child’s foundation. It is important to get to know the child in order to be able to identify the best way to support them in their growth and development. While also remembering that a child’s family is equally important in my planning for engagement and support of the child’s development.” - Sara Matta (Harry S Truman College; Chicago, IL)
When you think of an educator that impacted your life, what are some qualities, actions, or beliefs of theirs that you hope to emulate in your own work?
“When thinking of an educator that has influenced my life, I think back to my 1st grade teacher and how welcoming and supportive she was with my family and me, which I had the great opportunity to visit her a few years ago. Some of the qualities, actions, and beliefs of hers that I hope to emulate in my work are her sincerity, engaging style of educating, her welcoming smile, positive attitude, and most of all her belief of including the family into her students learning. By which she extended the learning and development at home as well as in the classroom.” - Sara Matta (Harry S Truman College; Chicago, IL)
“In the seventh and eighth grade, I had a particularly fun English teacher. He would tell jokes, go off on interesting tangents, and he was especially relaxed and goofy in his demeanor. I adored him, so in ninth grade, when I met the woman who was to be my new English teacher, I was a little bit concerned and disheartened. I believe that some of her professional background lay with the navy, and in many ways she taught like it. She was strict and disciplined and had a fairly serious demeanor while teaching. After the first couple weeks of school, I still had not warmed up to her. One day, I was feeling ill during my first couple of classes, so I went to the office to call my mother so that I could go home. This is where my teacher found me. In that moment, she was so compassionate and caring, that it made me forget for a moment that I didn’t really like her. After that day, I decided to give her a chance, and began to realize what an amazing teacher she was. Her orderly way of teaching suited her well and I learned a lot from her. She allowed herself to be kind when necessary, but kept herself organized and on topic. However, when I didn’t think that she cared, I didn’t feel safe or ready to learn in her classroom, which is something that I had felt from minute one in my previous teacher’s class. I would like to balance the wonderful qualities of both of these teachers in my own practice. I’ve realized that I personally thrive best in the classroom when things are orderly and disciplined, so that is how I will strive to teach. However more important than anything else is that my students know they are cared for and safe in my classroom. I will be caring and compassionate, while having an orderly classroom routine that still allows for fun and interpersonal connection.” - Emily Rimmasch (Weber State University; Ogden, UT)
“When I think of an educator that impacted my life, I think about my second grade teacher. She was always so nice with a calm tone of voice at all times. She genuinely loved all her students. I believe if the teacher has a calm vibe then it reflects on the students and the classroom flow is better.” - Jennifer de Leon (Del Mar College; Corpus Christie, TX)
What does graduation mean to you as a new member of this profession?
“Promise. The road to this milestone is rooted in so much love and hope that I can make a difference, help more, champion many, that completing this first step means a wealth of promise for my future and achieving these goals. I never expected to be here. I have always loved math, organization, and spreadsheets! I never imagined that my life journey would take a sharp left turn onto this new path. Six years ago, after learning that my godson was diagnosed with autism and ADHD, I wanted to learn as much as possible to help him succeed. I began to research, read every book recommended, participated in parent education classes, joined support groups, and took professional development courses on special needs and development. I explored resources that were available to us and accommodations that could help Ben across environments. The more I learned, the easier it was for me to connect with him and other children who needed just a little more support.As fate would have it, I was offered a position as Financial Administrator at a private preschool and kindergarten when Benji was almost 2 ½ years old. A perk of this was that Benji could go to my school when he was old enough. In the years following Benji’s diagnosis, I became a constant visitor in the classroom. I observed behaviors and patterns, introduced accommodations, and explored new methods and routines.
“After Benji moved on to another school, his former kindergarten teacher (and my colleague) continued to ask my opinion regarding other children. Soon, more teachers began asking my opinion on techniques to try with students who required a bit more strategy than other students. I started working with these children, giving sensory breaks, introducing meditation, and working on effective ways to express their feelings. At the same time, I worked with teachers on accommodations and practices for the classroom. I felt such gratification when these children, who were having such difficulty, began to be understood by their peers, became more social and appropriately interactive, and more productive in and outside of the classroom. My colleagues recognized my potential before I did and encouraged me to return to school and pursue a career helping children with special needs officially. I could also assist parents in an official capacity, and I knew that I could really make a difference with so much to offer and share. I jumped head-first into this new field, put my all into my studies, and have grown so much intellectually, academically, and individually. Graduating, with the highest honor, in an industry now so close to my heart means that I belong here, I am officially a member of this supportive community, and I can do this!” - Jael Johnson (Community College of Philadelphia; Philadelphia, PA)
“I’ve been working in classrooms for quite a while now as an assistant and different helper positions, so for me graduation means I get to have my own classroom. I get to go out and do my own thing, and in my own classroom. It's very terrifying and also exciting to me. I have more responsibility,but also it has opened up this whole world of possibilities.”- Emily Rimmasch (Weber State University; Ogden, UT)