This is one of a series of blogs featuring first-person accounts from early educators across Massachusetts. This one was written by Lisa Plotkin.
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When I graduated high school, I spent the summer as a preschool camp counselor. I came home every afternoon exhausted and took a nap. “Childcare – definitely NOT for me,” I said.
In college, I pursued architecture and then business. My first job out of college was managing an architectural office. I left that job to re-calibrate and found myself surrounded by children again as a substitute then a classroom teacher at the JCC preschool in Washington, DC. Following this role, I moved to my hometown Richmond, Virginia, where my path crossed a year later with a little boy waiting for his sister’s dance class to end as I was waiting for my exercise class to begin. It was 2007.
We’ve all heard about those “light bulb moments,” right? I had one. Something in his conversation with me, how easy it was for us to chat, made it a moment I’d always remember. A joyful readiness hit me: I wanted to pursue a degree in the field of early childhood. So, I moved to Boston and earned my Master of Early Childhood Education at Lesley University.
About a year later, I received a mysterious email from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. Something about a Post Master’s Certification Program at UMass Boston. How I got on that list, I’m not sure, but that email was another life-changing turn in my path. I applied to the program with all of my heart and was accepted into the pilot cohort for the program.
Ironically, at the end of the first day, I informed our instructor John Lippitt that I thought I had mistakenly signed up for what sounded like an unusually rigorous program because I had zero background in early education policy. Not to fear, he informed me, I was in the right place! The PMC program is intended to boost current early childhood educators in professionalism, strengthen the entire field beginning with the educators, and most importantly, to encourage us to be more active in local, city, regional, and national arenas of our profession.
As it turned out, the PMC reached my soul, teaching me that I had a lot to offer my colleagues and vice versa through conversation, experience, understanding, and networking. I was overjoyed to be with a group of 13 educators, all very happy to be learning together and strengthening the field of early childhood. We all actually wanted to be there! We endured the time-consuming doctoral level reading, research, and writing through cohesive support and discussion, all the while receiving solid encouragement from the UMass Boston team of instructors and faculty. Our studies culminated at the Leadership Forum when we presented our Change Projects to our peers and other early childhood professionals from across the state.
As my role has shifted from classroom teacher to coordinator to the assistant director, I have discovered several passions. I can’t quench my thirst for professional development opportunities or discussing children’s rights with educators. I love helping families grasp the ideas behind research about early childhood development that seem like common sense to trained educators, but become unclear when a person is joyfully blinded by love for their child.
I want policymakers to know that the educators in the field of early childhood are too often under appreciated and undervalued, from rates of pay to status in the eyes of the general public.
My path has many turns to come, but for now, I am fulfilled by strengthening confidence in children and families, by helping children see the best in themselves and others, and by sharing my passions through dialogue and continued professional development opportunities.
We must ignore the old adage, “Sing like no one’s listening, and dance like no one’s watching” and instead realize that we should sing and dance like all our children are watching – because they are. All the time. We should always know that children listen to our words and internalize our actions. If we model kindness, self-respect, and confidence, for instance, those ideas may eventually find their way into the hearts of the children as they become the future of our society.