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We Must Mentor New Teachers

My graduate school mentor and I recently had dinner. She is, as the professional catchphrase goes, a “thought leader” in early childhood. We talked about the crisis facing our profession: the shortage  of young, well-trained people entering the profession. I have been arguing this point with boards, teacher-preparation program administrators and “old ladies” like myself. I often ask, “What is the plan once we retire?” Every early childhood administrator must consider repetitive joint injury and apprenticeship as she creates staffing plans for her program.

Occupational and physical therapists talk about repetitive joint injury. As defined by "Medical News Today," “ A repetitive strain injury (RSI), also known as work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs), is an ‘injury to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that may be caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained or awkward positions.’” All early good early childhood teachers have some sort of joint issues after many years of sitting on hard floors or in small chairs, not to mention all the squatting to a child’s eye level. There comes a point at which every teacher must face that it is challenging to be in one of these postures, and needing a co-worker to take over.

Early childhood is not a profession that can be learned just by attending a college teacher preparation program and participating in preclinical or student teaching requirements. This is a profession that requires time spent in a classroom, learning from the aforementioned “old ladies.” Said another way, college courses are not going to teach you the practical skills of how to clean a paint cup efficiently or how to visually display a hands-on learning experience that is engaging and challenging for every child’s developmental profile. In fact, most programs do not do a very good job of teaching young would-be teachers the basics of child development. Planning is a much more sophisticated skill.

Ever since I realized I cannot sit in little classroom chairs, it has been my position  that every program needs a succession plan. This plan must include opportunities for new early childhood professionals to learn from the more experienced teachers and experience the joy of sitting on the floor with children gathered around as she reads a favorite picture book.

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