Mary Walsh is an early years teacher in Dublin. She describes the ups & downs and ins & outs of a “day in the life of an early childhood educator”.
‘A career where you work hard but the rewards are worth it’
Mary has a Level 6 in Early Childhood Education. She has been an early year’s teacher in a crèche in Dublin for just over two years and is also a qualified SNA – Special Needs Assistant.
Mary explains in her own words the motivation behind her career, the hard work she puts in and the rewards that are received on a daily basis.
“I didn’t start out working with children, in fact the path that led me to my career is fairly different. I was an accountant for a really long time, which I enjoyed, because I was a very organised person, loved problem solving and dealing with a diverse range of people. But I always felt my true calling lay somewhere else”.
Once I had my daughter, I started to think about changing my career to have more time at home and to feel I was actually making a difference in somebodies’ life. When I was looking for a pre-school for my daughter, I fell in love with the idea of watching little humans grow and develop before my eyes.
When I did my first degree, someone once said to me that I should become a teacher. But at the time, I just didn’t have experience of being with children. I think that’s why so many people in childcare are mums. You want to do the best for other children, and follow values that you did for your own.
Mary started her early childhood learning training with a Level 5, then progressed to Level 6 and is now aiming for her BA in Early Childcare Studies. Mary also did a 12month course in Special Needs Assistant. “I have the bug for learning, once I started, I kept going”
Mary has now been a leader at her pre-school for over two years and explains that it’s quite a unique setting:
“We look after about 36 children a day, with 76 children in total on the register. Being a pre-school, we’re open during school term and from 8.30am to 3.30 pm. Staff can work the early shift 8.00 to 1.30pm or 10.30 to 3.30 which works great with getting my kids to school.
The challenges that Mary expected, turned out to be some of the most rewarding parts of the job:
“I knew that I wanted to concentrate on getting to know the children and their families. I felt really strongly that being involved with the whole family was the right thing for children that are in Early Years Education. Understanding what their life is like at home is really important and understanding any additional needs that are required. I knew that I would find this really interesting and something that I wanted to tackle.
I expected the challenges that arise, with safeguarding issues and upsetting family situations, that could be really difficult and I worried about how I was going to cope with that. But actually, I feel very driven and passionate about this area and now I focus on it really heavily. Seeing children make progress when they are vulnerable to underachievement is really great and as a team, we feel proud that what we do really works.
In Mary’s role, no two days are the same but all days are filled with hard work and fun!
“I get to work quite early and organise myself with planning for the day. The structure of our day is varied, but we always meet for group times where I might lead an activity for particular groups of children. Then we have free-flow where we have lots of adult-led activities around the pre-school and nurture groups focusing in small groups on speech and language or literacy or building confidence. My focus is very much making sure that all of the things that the adults are doing involve interacting brilliantly with the children and that the children are interested. Then it’s about making change where needed as the day goes along, to make sure that the children are exposed to different learning opportunities.
Throughout the day, I will be doing observations on children and keeping an eye on any children that I have concerns about. I might catch up with parents if they have any worries about their child.
There are days where things happen that can throw you off course, but you just adapt and carry on. I have never worked anywhere where the day goes so fast.
Nothing stays still in this sector, which presents new learning and training opportunities:
In my job, it’s very interesting to keep up with the new schools of thought which happen all the time.
If you’re considering a career in Early Years, Mary explains that there are certain qualities that someone going into this area should possess:
“If you are interested in working with children, either changing career or straight from college, then I would say absolutely do it! You have to put the children first, put them at the heart of what you do and give it your total commitment.
You need to be calm, kind and insightful to be able to be tune into the needs of children and really love being with children. If you have these qualities, then it’s immensely fun and you will love it!
Things happen every day that make you smile. Today I have observed children making their own puppet show without needing an adult to help them and there are lots of proud moments – we have a little boy that is typically quiet but with the right activity , he thrives and today he just beamed all day.
The fact that it’s term time only mean that I get to work really hard for 6-7 weeks at a time, but then I get the rest of the holidays off to spend the time with my own children. It’s important to me in the early years that I don’t miss my own child’s events and milestones. This career fits with family life and I support my staff to do the same. It’s important to me to lead by example in all areas.
We just make such a difference – the happy faces and the learning, it’s a really fulfilling job to do. It’s a brilliant career and you couldn’t ask for more.”
Thank you to Mary for her generosity and honesty in writing this article.
Below are a list of super courses that are available:
Our distance learning QQI level 6 Early Childhood Care & Education Major award will provide learners with the knowledge, skill and competence to work as autonomous practitioners and to lead and supervise others in the provision of quality early childhood care and education in a variety of ECCE settings, whether working in a day care nursery, crèche, pre-school / after school facility or with families as a professional childminder.
Students are given ample time (13 months / 56 weeks) to complete the course and can start any time of the year !.
It will provide a major boost to your career prospects if you are interested in developing a career in childcare. As part of this Major Award learners will complete a total of 8 modules to achieve the award. On completion of the award learners will have the option of progressing to higher education and training opportunities.
Looking for a career change but don’t think childcare is for you? Make sure to check out our course search for more!