“I hold the view, popular in commentators across the political spectrum, that improving early learning is a vitally important topic at present…” John Cipora, a professor at the Springfield College St. Johnsbury campus, discusses the tension between the “seasoned but untrained” and “trained but unseasoned,” but most significantly the importance of a middle ground, with each group bringing expertise to the table.
I hold the view, popular in commentators across the political spectrum, that improving early learning is a vitally important topic at present, in the U.S. as well as globally. Not surprisingly, given the range of standpoints from which these analysts begin, the variety of suggested pathways to actually implementing that improvement borders on mind-boggling. Given that this blog post is being shared within the context of an institution of higher education, I am choosing to focus my attention on how we in that arena, whether students or faculty, can impact young children’s learning in powerful and profound (as well as in playful, dynamic, and delight-infused) ways.
My stance is centrally informed by the observation that well-educated practitioners in the early care and learning field have major advantages over other colleagues who have not had the benefit of comparable education. This is not intended to be a blanket truism, of course: a highly experienced early educator brings exquisitely refined competencies to every one of her or his interactions with young children. Experience gained “in the trenches” tends to be resonant, robust, and often intuitively efficacious; such hands-on, experientially-nuanced practice is challenging at best to derive from purely academic learning.
Conversely, however, the sorts of intensive, expansive, and critical thinking-infused reflective worldview that emerges from sound, creative, progressive early childhood education—such as is provided by the many highly trained and experienced instructors teaching in the Early Childhood Education (ECED) Concentration at Springfield College—is not the sort of perspective that tends to emerge organically simply through working in the field. Perhaps, as you read this, you are beginning to sketch out the framework of the tension that exists between the two categories of practitioners to whom I allude to here, namely the seasoned but untrained in contract to the trained but unseasoned. Perhaps, too, you have—as have I—encountered situations in which these two cultures have come quite directly into some level of conflict. I have seen this play out in one-to-one interpersonal contexts as well as in challenges across the entire learning environment of a preschool or a daycare center, in which individuals representing each of the two approaches seek to work well side by side, always holding the best interests of the children involved as the central goal. In spite of that shared—and almost always very clearly articulated goal—the working relationships can be complicated at best, fraught and adversarial at worst.
May I suggest that a middle ground can be a marvelous and attainable solution to this conundrum? And may I add that our ECED Concentration students exemplify this optimal negotiated view?
In my eight-plus years of teaching for the program at the Vermont regional campus of Springfield College, I have seen hundreds of instances of our students personifying the best of both of these worlds that I have (somewhat artificially, admittedly) outlined above. While these fine students have come from virtually every conceivable point across the gamut of representatives of the field, in terms of age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, political persuasion, family type, gender identification, etc., they hold in common the attribute that they are actively, intentionally, and emphatically seeking to bridge the perceived divide between the seasoned professional and the deeply, broadly educated practitioner. They keep close as an overarching goal the attainment of becoming the quintessential educator, informed by their day-to-day, year-by-year teaching as well as inspired by the wisdom shared by their teachers and their colleagues in the college classrooms of their program, online or on-campus.
It’s interesting to me that this big-picture view shows up whether the student is twenty-five or sixty-five: each of them—of you, in all probability—is richly cognizant of the fact that whatever they know about young children can be enriched, refined, amplified, clarified, and enhanced. I would posit that each of us in the field starts from the standpoint of a love of children; in the same breath, we understand that that is necessary but not sufficient. Especially in this complex era, in which newly emerging neuropsychological insights about brain development in infants and toddlers are stunning in their breadth and implication, yet where the national opioid crisis is decimating families of even the youngest infants, love is not enough. Rather, expertise must be mapped onto that affect-rich sensibility. It is that brilliant admixture that I see as the typical synthesis among my ECED students, that recognition that even five, ten, often twenty or more years of experience doing this vital work is not enough.
I find this professional modesty to be both impressive and intriguing: I have seen it manifest so regularly over my years here. Students with twenty years of developed expertise in teaching and caring for toddlers are yet fully cognizant of the fact that they need to know more, that the academy has much to offer them—even as they, in turn, have so much to offer in return. It’s a perfectly symbiotic relationship, and a marvelously synergetic one as well: the student is transformed, the institution is vitally enlivened and inspired, and—to my mind, the best part of all—the children being taught by these reflective practitioners in future early care and learning environments will benefit profoundly, each and everyone, across all aspects of their learning.