Looking back at my tidbits, I noticed that there have been many instances in which I have mentioned my Master’s in Early Childhood Education. However, I realized that—although I have mentioned this topic at least three or four times—I have never specifically discussed what this entails. So, since I’m almost finished with the program, and because I can’t think of another topic (a weekly problem), I thought it would be the perfect time to really dive into the program and tell all of you about it.
My decision to go after a Master’s in Early Childhood Education began back in 2015. I had just graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree and was having a lot of trouble finding a job. As a result, I decided to start substituting at a preschool and working with early childhood and elementary-aged children at a tutoring center. I had always wanted to be a teacher but my love of writing took priority and I decided to go after a career in a field that focused on this subject. However, when I began working in these jobs with young children, it reawakened my passion for teaching. I knew that, in this economy and uncertain times, it is helpful to have a backup degree—so, after researching various universities, I decided that the University Of Houston Clear Lake had an excellent ECE (Early Childhood Education) program and, due to its proximity to home, was my number one choice. It also helped that I didn’t need to take the GRE and an added bonus was that, a week after applying to the school, I was offered this job at The Post. It was as if it was meant to be.
I started my program in August 2016. Since I was working full-time, I decided to go to school part-time. I know myself better than anyone—obviously—and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to handle a full-time job and full-time school. I mean a girl needs time to relax, right? So I started by taking six hours a semester (full time in my graduate program is nine hours) and learned quickly that this was the perfect amount. It wasn’t too little that I felt I was wasting time, but it wasn’t too much where it was unmanageable. All it took was some time-management, organization and planning out my schedule and I was easily able to handle two classes, all of the work that went along with those classes and my job. Of course, I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it was manageable.
And I’d like to take slight moment to diverge slightly from the main point of this article, and just clear up certain misconceptions I know many people to have. And I say that I know people have these misconceptions because, not only did I previously have the misconceptions myself, but because I have come across people with these misconceptions. And the misconception is that education is an easy option. Let me tell you, it definitely is not. I’ll admit, when I first started the program, my attitude was “oh this will be easy. How difficult can Early Childhood Education be?” Well, I was in for a rude awakening. Now, granted, it’s not as difficult as going to Medical School or Law School or anything of that nature; but it is definitely not an easy option. I have learnt so much in my classes. Not only have I learnt what to teach young children, I have also learned how to teach these topics. I have learnt about the NAEYC standards—which are standards that all Early Childhood programs must meet— and I have learnt about the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) guidelines for children aged zero to eight—which detail everything a student must know by the end of the school year. I have had to take classes in Statistics, because a large part of being an educator means reading through and statistically analyzing research papers by other educators, so as to decide whether their work will be helpful in all classrooms. I have had to take classes in which I learn about how a child’s brain develops, so I understand how best to teach children of different ages, and how to create lessons and activities that are beneficial for all children—including those who have special needs, learning disabilities or are English Language Learners. And I have had to be able to hold on to all of this knowledge and utilize it when I completed my field experiences.
Field experiences have been a major part of my degree plan. What this means is that I was required to go to a school and complete activities with the students in my assigned classroom. The activities I completed were dependent on the class I was taking, and the age groups I worked with were between the ages of 3 and 7. The main idea of field experience was to bring the skills I had learnt in class, out into the real world. And a major aspect of it was to create lesson plans in Math, Science, Art, Social Studies, English and PE and teach these lessons to my field experience students. But the most challenging project, by far, was a long-term investigative project I had to undertake with a group of first grade students. The project consisted of choosing a topic that interested the students, coming up with a list of questions the students had regarding that topic and then working with the students to find the answers to their questions. The idea of the project approach is that the topic is chosen by the students and that it includes several hands-on activities. I also had a project in which I had to choose a topic relevant to children and education, conduct activities with the students related to this topic and write a “Teacher As A Researcher” paper which included a review of the literature surrounding my chosen topic, information about the activities I carried out, information about the children (age, race, socioeconomic factors, ETC) and an explanation of why the topic is important. My paper ended up being 25 pages—which is more than I expected.
So what sort of classes did I take? I already mentioned I took classes in Statistics, but I also took classes in classroom management, creating a developmentally appropriate curriculum, multicultural education, how to teach literacy, math and science to young children, the importance of play, the importance of the arts, the best way to utilize technology in the classroom and much more. Each class consisted of its own projects, papers, discussion board postings and field experiences—some of which consisted of me working with children and visiting education-based locations.
So, as you can see, the course is definitely not “easy”. I think it takes a special person to be a teacher. I have to have patience and I have to have the ability to think on my feet and be prepared for anything. For example, I can write up a lesson plan, but if my students are finding it too easy or too difficult, I need to be able to change the lesson to fit the needs of my students. I need to make sure that every child is getting the full benefit of their education, and that no one is being left behind. I need to understand the home lives of each child, so I know that there could be external factors that influence their behavior and ability to work, learn and concentrate in the classroom. I need to teach in a developmentally appropriate manner, but I also need to understand what developmentally appropriate means. This, combined with many other factors, is why I believe people should only go into teaching if they are serious and passionate about it. Because it doesn’t just consist of making up a few worksheets and handing them out to students. As a teacher, I am responsible for a child’s well-being. And this is even more important in the early childhood years, because these children are still being shaped into the individuals they will grow up to be. And because a child spends a lot of time at school, it is the teacher’s responsibility—not only to impart wisdom on these children—but to teach them how to be kind, respectful, contributing members of society. As an early childhood educator, not only will I teach my students about Math, Literacy and other core subjects—but also about cooperation, patience, kindness, respect and other factors that make for decent individuals.
I started out this program, two-years-ago, as a back-up. But as the years went on and I took more classes, I realized just how passionate I was about education. I want to teach because I want to change lives. I have been doing lots of reading and have learnt, through that and my classes ,that the educational system in our country is quite flawed. The focus in our country is less about helping kids learn and more about test scores. I am currently taking a class dedicated to the importance of play in early childhood and have learnt that, because schools are so pressured to have their students pass standardized tests, children as young as preschool are being required to sit and complete worksheets and learning through play has diminished. And this is most unfortunate because play helps strengthen the cognitive, creative and social-emotional development of young children—which is extremely important at their age. Furthermore, as I mentioned in one of my assignments, this pressure is preventing children from becoming passionate about learning. So for this topic, and various others, I want to become a teacher so that I can make a difference in the lives of children.