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1.2: The Teacher as a Person

  • Page ID
    • Gayle Julian & Sophie Truman
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    The most important task asked of you as an early childhood teacher is working directly with children. Yes, you will play with them. You will also teach them, talk with them, guide their behaviors, provide for their physical and psychological growth and development, document their progress, model appropriate interactions, and nurture them. You will interact with the adults in their lives, and the connection you build to each child and their families served will live on in your professional life for however long you continue to work in the field of early learning. One of the primary goals of the early childhood educator is to be a nurturing teacher: one that promotes respect among everyone involved in the classroom, and that this level of respect is underlined by a sense of the joy in teaching children.

    You may have an image in your mind of what a nurturing teacher might look like, and it could include some of the behaviors and tasks listed above. It also includes building a positive classroom community that involves many elements beyond bright colors and having the appropriate number of math manipulatives. In fact, creating warm inviting classrooms is among some of the most important work that we do for children and families. Positive relationships are at the heart of everything we do as teachers and the messages we send leave lasting impressions that will lay a foundation for children’s approaches to learning for the rest of their lives. All of the children you will teach in your career will come to your classroom with varying levels of experiences, backgrounds and family structures.

    Image 1.2 Teacher with toddlers is licensed under CC by 1.0

    In addition, each day you walk into the classroom, you will bring with you a set of personal and professional values that will guide your work, and although there is no “one way is the correct way” or one personality that lends itself better to the teaching profession, there are tendencies, personalities and skills that contribute to the daily success you will have working in the profession. We will begin the book by exploring what all teachers of young children carry with them as they enter the classroom each day.

    The Teacher as a Person

    Who you are as a person will be the foundation of the daily work that you will do with children and families and impacts the professional that you are aspiring to be within the field of early learning. You will bring with you the skills and knowledge you have about children and child development, the life experiences you have had, your personal values and morality as well as your own temperament and personality. Attitudes that you hold about diversity and inclusion of children will factor in to how your classroom is set up and managed.

    Skills and Knowledge

    Every profession has set of skills and a knowledge base that individuals within that profession use to define the field of study (or profession itself). For example, a dentist should have skills to check your teeth and fill cavities, whereas a car mechanic has knowledge about how to diagnose a faulty carburetor. Working as an effective teacher means that you should have knowledge and a specialized skill set about many topics within the profession of early childhood education.

    A recent study entitled Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8 explores implications of research-based child development practices that influence those who work with children. NAEYC has relied on this book and its findings to inform the Power to the Profession movement dedicated to improving the well-being of all children focusing on the educational development services for children birth to age 8. NAEYC has a set of national standards for early childhood professional preparation programs described in chapter 2 of this text.

    In Washington State, DCYF has published a set of core competencies ( and frameworks to guide decisions and practices carried out by professionals in all early care and education settings. These competencies coordinate and design courses for certificates and degrees as part of the skills and knowledge Washington State feels is important for teachers to possess and are described in detail in chapter 2.

    Washington State also has a set of certificates called the Early Childhood Education Stackable Certificates that build on one another and can lead into an Associate degree in early childhood education and beyond. The certificates are offered at community colleges throughout the state and is the starting point in Washington to begin a career in early learning. This course, ECED& 105 Introduction to Early Childhood Education is one of the courses listed in the Initial 12 credit certificate, so you are on your way to acquiring the skills and knowledge recommended by our state.

    As you work in the field, you will gain a set of skills not only through college courses, but also through continuing education such as STARS hours earned, your day-to-day interactions with children and families, your work with colleagues and leaders in the field, membership in professional organizations, additional reading you enjoy about a particular topic, or you may choose to pursue advanced degrees. Each of these experiences, along with many others, will contribute to your own personalized knowledge and skills that are unique to you and your work.

    Life Experiences

    Whatever career a person chooses, they bring with them into their work their whole history as a person including all life experiences from early childhood and beyond. Each day when you walk into your classroom environment, you are bringing your personality/temperament, attitudes and values that grow from your culture and your own individual influences on your own early childhood experiences.

    Remembering that you were a child and how those early experiences shaped you as a person are worth thoughtful reflection as you enter the field. It is important to recognize that your experiences will not be the same ones that you provide to the children you work with and that both the positive, as well as the not so positive, parts of our past influence our work. Being able to compassionately care for children requires that you know and acknowledge those experiences, remembering that self-care is critical. As the saying goes, “you cannot pour from an empty cup” and reviewing your past in nonjudgmental ways as you observe and work with children is paramount. Recognizing that everyone experiences negative feelings and experiences can provide you with a critical lens as you assist a child struggling with their own self-acceptance.

    Part of the reflective process (a process that is a critical component to working with children) is to think about every interaction you have with children and families and determine who you want to be as a teacher.

    Personal Values and Morality

    Image 1.3 Playing with Blocks is licensed under CC by 1.0

    Personal values are the things that are important to us. They are the characteristics and behaviors that motivate us and guide our decision making. Our values are comprised of the moral code that guides our actions and defines who we are. Some values follow a universal rule of conduct, and others are personal and are defined by our family of origin, culture, religious beliefs, the communities in which we live and work. In addition, our life experiences will also impact the values we hold as a person.

    It is possible that you have chosen to work with children and families because you value children. You could also be motivated by social justice, equality, a passion for learning, or an experience you might have had as a child. Awareness of your own values and recognizing that not everyone will have the same set of values that you have, are very much the foundation of what makes you you.

    Personal morality has roots firmly in early childhood education. At a very young age we learn what is right and what is wrong in a multitude of ways through the adults that care for and guide us as children. This could be found in homes, classrooms, neighborhoods, places of worship and communities as we navigate how to treat others and respect differences. It becomes the basis of how we make decisions and choices daily. The NAEYC code of ethics, which you will learn about in the next chapter, is a professional document that can offer guidance as we work with children and families, especially if situations arise that cause us to question or think about the situation as it is related to our own individual set of values and morals.

    Temperament and Personality

    Temperament is defined as a set of inborn traits that organize the way we approach the world. These traits are instrumental in the way we learn about the world around us. Researchers Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess (1977) have studied temperament related to ways in which we respond to the environments where we live and work (and for children, play!). Figure 1.1 below illustrates the nine individual traits as related to adult learning shown in a continuum model. It is important to remember that these traits should not be viewed as “good” or “bad” but do provide information about how we interact within our environments.

    Figure 1.1 Nine Dimensions of Temperament
    Thomas and Chess Temperament Continuum Examples
    High/Active ------------------------------- Activity Level ------------------------------- Low/Inactive
    Predictable ------------------------------- Regularity/Rhythmicity ------------------------------- Unpredictable
    Bold/Approaching ------------------------------- Initial Reaction ------------------------------- Inhibited/Cautious
    Flexible/Quick ------------------------------- Adaptability ------------------------------- Rigid/Gradual
    Intense ------------------------------- Intensity ------------------------------- Mild
    Positive ------------------------------- Mood ------------------------------- Negative
    Rarely ------------------------------- Distractibility ------------------------------- Often
    Persistent/Long ------------------------------- Attention Span ------------------------------- Intermittent/Short
    Nonreactive ------------------------------- Sensitivity ------------------------------- Sensitive

    Looking at the continuum above, you could place yourself at the higher end of the continuum for example in activity level (very high/active), or anywhere along the continuum all the way to something akin to “low/inactive”. Some of these temperament traits are good “fits” for individuals working with children daily: positive quality of mood, and higher activity levels for example.


    What do you think are some traits that are necessary “goodness of fit” for working with children and families?

    Generally speaking, traits are seen as a “goodness of fit” when a person’s temperaments aligns with the tasks necessary in a job or career. That is not to say that if you don’t possess certain traits for a career, that the career might not be for you! It is a starting point for thinking about the implication of how your personality fits into the field of early learning.

    Attitudes about Diversity and Inclusion

    Messages we get as young children about groups of people whose culture, language, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, appearance, ability, or religion that differs from ours as well as the experiences from our own lives influence our attitudes as adults. We develop expectations about people, and it is important to recognize this within yourself and the community where you work. A bias is a tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone (Psychology Today, 2020). Some biases are positive and helpful (like choosing to eat foods that are considered healthy). However, bias is often based on stereotypes, rather than actual knowledge of an individual or circumstance and this can often lead to prejudgment or discriminatory practice.

    Many people struggle to recognize their own biases, and it is important to note that everyone has some bias as our brains attempt to categorize people and things “like” us and people and things “unlike” us. If taken to the extreme, this type of categorization can bring about feelings of an “us versus them” mentality which can lead to harmful prejudice. Bias is a universal human condition and even the most dedicated and well-meaning teachers hold beliefs that may affect their students. Sometimes, these beliefs can be harmful—if they are left unexamined. Identifying your own biases will help you to resist having a negative effect on the children and families that you work with. When you recognize a bias; it might help you to dispel feelings you have that could lead to negative reactions.

    Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor once said, “Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see”. This recognition of bias holds true in the field of early childhood education as well.


    How do you feel that your personal values and goals might be reflected in your classroom and teaching each day?

    Is there a particular age of child that you are interested in working with? Or maybe an age group that you would be challenged by?

    Inclusion is the “act or practice of including: the state of being included” (Merriam-Webster, 2020). Sometimes in the field of Education, the term inclusion is reserved for conversations around special needs children and the importance of included all children in work and play. Inclusion can also be seen in day-to-day practice when children might leave a child behind in play or say something like “you’re not invited to my birthday party” in an attempt to exclude a particular child. It is important that teachers support all children in helping them to understand that they are an important part of their school community. Our job is to foster a development of belonging that will prepare them for life in their community as they grow.

    This page titled 1.2: The Teacher as a Person is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gayle Julian & Sophie Truman.

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