Dr. Julius serves as vice president of early childhood education and professional development at Primrose Schools®.
In this essay, she shares her thoughts about the joys of teaching children, why she got into the field and why investing in high-quality early education is so incredibly important.
I wanted to be a teacher of young children since I was 5 years old.
My grandmother was a teacher, and her love of children rubbed off on me. As I got older, I realized that no successful adults would be where they are today without teachers.
My biggest joy comes when I see the light bulb come on in a child’s mind — when the child first realizes, “I did it all by myself.” Because children are natural experimenters, giving up is not in their nature. Children will approach a task one way, then another, until they finally make it work. Those “light bulbs” are not just evident in a child’s eyes and expressions. Today’s advanced biometric technology allows researchers to watch children’s brains in action while they interact with adults, peers or objects. Scientists can see areas of the brain light up when certain senses are activated.
This information can help educators have a better idea on how children learn best — and that means we can know how to better teach.
On making a difference
Teaching is the most important and rewarding career. The rewards don’t end in the classroom — teaching can truly make a long-term difference for the children and their families.
Academic and economic research backs it up. Research by Nobel laureate James Heckman, “The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program,” shows that high-quality birth-to-5 programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13 percent annual return on investment in terms of greater high school graduation rates, enrollment in higher education resulting in higher-paying jobs, less need for government assistance and lower incarceration rates. And the effects of high-quality early learning experiences continue to make a positive impact intergenerationally. Heckman recently published a study showing that the children of those adults who had a high-quality preschool experience as a child also reaped the benefits of their parents’ early learning experience.
On advice for new teachers
Enjoying being with children is No. 1. You are the most important person in their lives while they are with you.
Parents depend on you to love their child like they do. Children depend on you to keep them safe. Children need loving interactions and nurturing relationships to survive and grow.
It’s so satisfying to see the children learn every day. Know that you are making a difference in a child’s life that will last forever. It’s the best feeling when an older youth or young adult whom you taught as a child recognizes you in the community years later and takes time to reminisce about the experiences he or she remembers from your class.
On managing stress through empathy, patience and positivity
When young people ask me if they would be a good fit in this field, I tell them that good early educators must love children — ALL children, but that’s not always enough. Good educators also manage stress well. They must be able to switch gears and emotions quickly, and that sometimes takes some good old-fashioned acting.
Young children’s behaviors can be trying at times because they have not yet developed the verbal skills to express their feelings, wants and needs. If you can put on a smile, speak in a calm voice and show empathy to the children regardless of how you feel or what is going on in your life outside the classroom, you will be better able to handle those day-to-day challenges with patience and grace.
Those educators who excel communicate well not only with children but also with parents and colleagues. Being a strong communicator requires deep empathy — empathy helps us understand how a child might be feeling and why she might be behaving in a certain way. Remember, children do not come into the world knowing our expectations for behavior. They must be taught. Young children need many reminders and a lot of modeling, which requires patience and understanding on our part.
Empathy and patience are also helpful when communicating with parents. Understand that it is natural for parents to be protective of their children. Listening carefully and patiently will help you understand their questions and concerns. Keep an open mind and a positive mindset. Chances are you and the parents have the same goal in mind. This will help you work together to design a solution that will be in the best interest of the child.
On the growth of early education
The early childhood field has changed from solely caretaking to nurturing and learning. Teachers are responsible for the health and safety of the child, and they are also responsible for implementing a curriculum.
Not only are more and more families choosing to continue with dual incomes after starting a family, creating a need for daily care, but school readiness is now also an expectation of most early childhood programs.
In addition, the research over the past 50 years has shown a large long-term return on investment for society. More businesses and private foundations are beginning to recognize the benefits that a high-quality early childhood education offers toward a better-prepared workforce, less crime and more engaged communities, and they are wanting to become more involved.
Early childhood education enhances the young child’s experience and gives him or her a head start on learning and life success. It truly is the best career in the world!
Dr. Julius has more than 40 years of education experience. She also enjoys sharing her thoughts and advice as a mother and a grandmother.
For more of Dr. Julius’ wisdom:
How to Raise a Compassionate Child
How to Raise a Creative Child
How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?