What an absolute thrill and honor to be named Early Childhood Professional of the Year by Building Bright Futures of Chittenden County. My center's director gave an eloquent speech about my work. She has been right along with me as I have gone from wide-eyed inexperienced infant teacher, preschool teacher, early essential education individual assistant, and to my current role as, apparently, "toddler whisperer!" It's hard to put into words my gratitude for this recognition. In a field that is all too frequently put in terms of "milk and cookies" using the word "Professional" means so much. Yes, I change diapers, but there is so much more to the work that I, and my outstanding coworkers, do every day.
I've had a long, meandering journey becoming a professional in this field. When I was one, my mother started caring for children in our home. So, I can honestly say I grew up in childcare. My mother was my first mentor. She is currently a center-based preschool teacher and continues to be a great resource for teaching along with parenting. It was her inspiration that as a kindergatener I decided that "when I grow up, I want to be a teacher."
I took "The Babysitting Course" as a preteen which made me already feel like a professional. I was a fan of The Babysitter's Club books and collected every single one. Yes, including the Super Specials! With my "Kid Kit" in hand (other BSC fans, you know what I'm talking about) I started earning money. Playing with children was pretty sweet from the start.
In my college years when I double-majored in elementary education and theater with a minor in medieval studies, I would have declared that I would never work with young children. I did however, do a work-study at the campus early learning center where my older sister worked. Of course, there was yet more inspiration. It was with some of those children that I did Piagetian tasks which started an interest in early brain development. I should have known that this would be my field! It is that rapid development that occurs early years that is a constant fascination to me. Being able to observe the different approaches to learning, personal accomplishments, and the fascination of the world around us from a child's point of view is a daily joy.
Beside being full of wonder and accomplishment, toddlers, if you don't already know, are also hilarious. Singing "Someone's in the Kitchen with Diamond" with a pull-up on her head, declaring "my yogurt is organic!", spinning round and round and challenging himself to walk across the room saying, "it's funny" or explaining "my curly hair makes my brain comfortable" are a few of the moments that keep my sense of humor what it is.
There are also the sweet moments that I am so glad I get to witness. Children raise and clink their glasses with thier friends saying, "cheers!" Three friends hold hands in a circle and work together to climb up the four large steps to get to the top of our classroom's play structure. A crying baby is given a toy placed in her hand and a few minutes of attention by a two year-old. When I leave for the day, I hear, "I'm going to miss you!" Sure, there is a good amount of problem solving with the children, but knowing that work leads to these genuine moments makes it quite worth the effort.
I am ever so grateful for the staff with whom I work: quiet and loud, silly and serious, organized and carefree. While we don't always agree, there is always something to learn from the debate. It is a joy to come into work with like-minded professionals who can certainly agree that the well-being and education of the children in our care are of the utmost importance. I've learned the value of collaboration and enjoy looking at thier different perspectives, sharing accomplishments, and all of that laughter.
We have some pretty great families at our center. I enjoy sharing those funny stories and sweet moments, and I like problem solving with them, too. Becoming a parent myself has given me a different perspective about those "after hours" issues. I am able to share my own struggles and triumphs with bedtime rituals, tooth brushing, tantrums, and toileting. I like to think that I am part of the families' close community. Even though I know five years from now, the toddler that is currently my shadow, will not recognize me, it makes me truly satisfied to hear about their successes as I know that I was part in laying down a strong foundation for their future.
To all of those who were part of nominating me for this award, I am truly thankful. While my director read some of your quotes, I have yet to see your letters. It's probably a good thing as there has already been enough grateful, happy tears to last for awhile. It has been and will continue to be a great honor to work with you and with your children.