By: Dawn Irwin
When I was five years old my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Klinkenburg, asked my class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I didn't hesitate; I knew in my heart exactly who I was supposed to be. I whipped my hand in the air, impatiently waiting to be called on. When she finally picked me, "I am going to be you!" burst out of my lips. And, it was true. I knew I was meant to be a teacher.
A few years later, I had forgotten all about this event, and began fantasizing about the potential careers I could have when I became an adult. After graduating from high school, I tried on dozens of uniforms and desks before finally landing in the magical world of early childhood. Teaching, supporting, and loving children came as naturally to me as breathing. My entire life I had taken care of people - it's totally woven into my DNA - but now I was getting paid for it. And, honestly, most of the time it didn't feel like a job at all. I loved living in my students' world, creating incredibly strong and trusting relationships with them and their families, and learning from them who I was as a person.
Twenty-two years after my prophetic announcement surrounded by my fellow five-year-old classmates, I met the teacher who would impact my life more than any other. I was so nervous. I had just accepted a new teaching position at a very well known, prestigious school. There would be new teachers, students, families, routines, paperwork, you name it. Not to mention upholding the impeccable reputation that came with this amazing program. But, on my very first day a bubbly, energetic, and kind-hearted woman took me under her wing and began mentoring me. Because of Holly's incredible mentoring skills, I slowly gained confidence in myself and my abilities as a teacher. With her support and my newfound confidence, I was able to push and challenge myself to newer and greater heights. As time went on I was able to reciprocate this support, which enabled us both to grow as educators and friends. After six years of working side by side together we had become a dynamic, collaborative, and creative teaching team. Our strengths supported the other's weaknesses, our passion for early childhood education was immeasurable, and the love we felt for our students knew no bounds.
Fast forward a couple of years. Holly and I are co-teaching at a new, innovative program. We decide to attend a Brick by Brick one day conference in Boston hosted by the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. The theme for the conference is Wondering and Learning Together. We spend the entire day soaking in every word, image, idea, and discussion shared with us. At the very end of the conference a woman stands up. She thanks us for attending. Then she asks the people in the room if they believe in children. Everyone raises their hands. She asks if we love the profession we have chosen. Most of the room, again, raises their hands. Then she asks how many of us believe that changes need to be made - drastic changes - to the field and the profession itself. Now, I had raised by hand every time so far, but this time, it shot up like an arrow. Then she said:
"Look around. See the hands in the air? These are the hands that need to make the changes we all know our profession needs. We can't wait around for someone else to pick up the baton and do it. No one else but you can do it.
There is no one else. You have to stand up and be the advocate. Bring back what you learned today and make the changes you want to see in the world.
You can do it.
Change the world, show people who we are and what you believe in. Make them see and understand what Early Childhood Education could, and should, look like. You want things to change? You know things need to change? Then bring your voice back with you and do it."
As she spoke, I looked around the room. Everyone was staring at her. Some people had looks of inspired awe, others were wiping away silent tears. I could feel my heart swelling in my chest. She had struck a chord in us. In me. I looked at Holly. I could see the same exact thoughts racing across her face.
I can be the change. I NEED to be the change. I WILL be the change.
We got into my car at the end of the day and words began pouring out of our mouths. The Hoover Dam had broken and there was no way to stop it. A tidal wave
of thoughts, energy, and potential filled the vehicle.
Holly and I knew we were great educators, but something happened to us after that speech at the end of that super inspiring day. I don't know if it was the woman's choice of words, the passion that filled her voice, or the vulnerable, honest look on her face. Whatever it was, a lever had clicked inside of us. We finally believed in ourselves in a way we didn't know was possible before. We finally believed in our ability to actually do something to change the status quo. We finally believed that change could happen and that we would be the ones to do it.
Thinking back on that three and a half hour drive that turned into seven, I can't help but look at it as a monumental turning point in my life. Holly and I decided that very night on Interstate 93 that we are going to start making some waves in the field of Early Childhood Education. We are going to create the loving, nurturing, supportive learning environments we want to see in the world. We are going to provide the educational experience children deserve, but is inherently missing from the center-based programs currently offered in America.
No one else is doing it, so why not us?
Of course we realize there are going to be those that don't understand, support, or believe in our vision. Of course we know that there will be roadblocks, bumps, and detours that will present themselves along the way. But, that's just all part of the journey, right? Isn't it the challenges, mistakes, and failures that make us stronger, more determined, more resilient, and more grateful for the successes? That's the lens we're choosing to look through.
So, here we are. Standing at the beginning of a very long and arduous road, about to embark on the journey of our dreams. Our careers. Our lives. And we plan on using this blog to document every step along the way. We would love for you to join us.
Share our joy, fear, hesitation, curiosity, and passion. Share our triumphs, our stumbles. Watch with us as we view the world through the eyes of children and learn all they have to teach us. Laugh with us. Cry with us. Grow with us.
Wonder with us.
Holly Beckert and Dawn Irwin are moms, early childhood educators, and advocates. Please enjoy reading all about our adventures inside and outside of our classroom!