Last week, I started my field placement at an early years centre. It was a very different experience compared to working in the traditional child care centre: caregivers are present with their child(ren) for the duration of their stay at the centre.
I felt awkward.
How was I going to hold decent conversations with caregivers? I’m not a small-talk person, so I had no idea what to say to them after the initial “How are you?” greetings. I also did not feel confident about my knowledge of child development to be saying anything to parents at this time. After all, they are the experts on their own children. What do I know? It was my first couple of days and I don’t even know anyone there.
I felt intimidated.
How was I going to interact with children while their caregivers are watching? It’s not like they’re in another part of the world watching us through a screen. Oh, no, not at all. They are physically nearby and could react (positively or negatively) to every little thing you do right then and there–intimidating. Some of them played with their own children (which they have a right to, of course); I did not want to interfere with their bonding moments. Others, I felt were watching me standing awkwardly or walking around the play area aimlessly, sticking out like a sore thumb.
I was afraid and anxious.
I did my best to observe and get to know the centre and the program. I tried to approach children who were not playing right beside their caregiver so that I did not feel intimidated, but there were few of them. I attempted to make conversations with parents and ask them about their children, but they may not have been ready to share anything with me. On my second day at the centre, I felt so anxious that I had to take a break and cry in the washroom for a moment before recomposing myself and going back out again.
My first week at the early years centre made me want to drop my field course.
The staff at the centre are all wonderful people. They also tried to reassure me that every one of them had had the same initial experience of trepidation. They told me that, in time, I will get used to it and feel more comfortable working alongside caregivers (literally).
Still, I felt super awkward, intimidated, and afraid.
On my third day (the next week), I got so anxious in the morning about the prospect of facing caregivers again, in a setting I was not comfortable with, that I missed that placement day.
So that evening I went up to one of my professors and asked for advice.
She was very understanding of my situation, but instead of giving me her perspective on the situation as an educator, she told me what caregivers may be thinking or feeling when they go to an early years centre. As a parent who has brought her child(ren) there, she told me that most caregivers do not want to be lectured, but that they are there to unwind while their children play. She said that most caregivers will not mind if an educator (or student-educator) played with their children. She also reassured me that the caregivers who drop in at early years centres are not there to be critical of me, especially when they know I am a student.
It really helped a lot to hear the perspective of a parent.
The next day, I gathered up my courage and pushed myself to attend Day 4 of placement.
It is said that “courage is not the absence of fear“. Rather, courage is doing something regardless of how much it may be frightening for one. And most often than not, courage pays off.
I felt much more at ease on Day 4. I still felt awkward and intimidated, but I felt brave enough to power through the day and interact with the families visiting the centre.
I am still in the process of conquering my fears, but I am beginning to like working in an early years centre and now look forward to my next days at placement. Will I improve? Will I feel better and better each day? Only time will tell.
How would you feel working alongside caregivers (geographically, literally) throughout the day?
Would you have felt the same as I did? Or would you welcome such an arrangement and thrive in this kind of environment right from the start?
What would you have done?