Andrew Thornburrow admits he used to think early childhood teaching was all ‘changing nappies and wiping noses.’
That was until he enrolled in a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) at New Zealand Tertiary College and was awoken to the complexity and diversity that can exist in the role.
“I was thinking about the possibility of studying primary, but my wife, who’s an ECE teacher, talked me into studying ECE and then doing a postgrad in primary if I changed my mind…. But as I started studying childhood development I grew to understand the influence of the early years and the profound effect it can have on the rest of a person’s life.”
Studying via NZTC Online was a great choice for Andrew, as he could focus more on the topics he enjoyed, and fit study around raising his two daughters, aged two and four, and there was no disruption to his studies despite moving from Auckland down to Masterton halfway through. He enjoyed being able to put the theoretical learning into immediate action on field practice placements, and to observe experienced teachers to get a feel for what work as a professional early childhood teacher might be like.
“When I started doing my sixteen hours in a kindergarten, I saw that they didn’t do nappies! And they made the kids wipe their own noses,” he laughs. “Seeing that in practice, seeing how they actually taught and modelled to the kids really opened my eyes.”
As part of a research paper in his degree, Andrew had to choose a topic to research in-depth. This coincided with a placement where he was feeling a degree of dissatisfaction, and he was going through a process of reflecting as to why that was. “A lot of it came down to the fact I was trying to fit into the mould of an early childhood teacher that has been developed by the industry and society,” he explains. “I was trying to squeeze into that mould and bending myself out of shape a bit so I wasn’t enjoying it as much. Once I came to that realisation and was able to say, ‘I’m not willing to become someone else to fulfil a role,’ that was a very freeing moment for me, and I began to enjoy myself again.” He decided to take this realisation and focus his assignment on the role of men in early childhood education; examining what it means to work in a nurturing and caring career dominated by women, and pushing for the broadening of the definition of the early childhood teacher.
Andrew has concluded that men thinking about a career in early childhood should be given every opportunity to pursue it, but is not an advocate for having more male teachers just for the sake of it. “Obviously males have more of a personal insight into a boy’s desire for mastering the physical, but I do think it’s possible for a female teacher to learn and understand that as well,” he explains. “A lot of people get stuck in this ‘boys-need-boys’ idea, but I think the benefits of having male teachers equally apply to girls. From my personal experience, I have found that a lot of the girls have benefited from having a male around; especially those without male figures at home.” Recently he’s been spending a lot of time engaged with literature on the influence of male role models on young girls, a topic of special interest with daughters of his own. He has become more mindful of the ways he tries to encourage girls, and has strengthened his belief of instilling them with a sense of their own intrinsic worth. He wants them to grow up in the knowledge that their value is not in how they look or in how they behave, and that men can care and look after them without them having to do something in return. It’s a notion he finds himself promoting regularly: “The other day a girl at my centre came up to me and asked ‘Andrew, does my hair look beautiful today?’ because her mum had done her hair up in a fancy plait. I turned to her and said, ‘your hair looks beautiful every day.’ I don’t know if she went away thinking, ‘aw, he doesn’t like my hair’…but if she constantly gets that kind of response, she will realise that it doesn’t matter how she looks and that she can be appreciated for the person she is."
With his well-considered responses and obvious genuine commitment to the wellbeing of children, it’s not surprising that Andrew has achieved extraordinary results across his three year program and has received great feedback from Visiting Lecturers.
Since last December Andrew has been employed as a full-time teacher at Lansdowne Private Childcare in Masterton, where he completed one of his final three week placements.
Every day is different, but his role usually involves setting up in the morning and communicating with other teachers in an attempt to provide some continuity of experiences throughout the centre for the day. Then he gets down on to the children’s level and engages with the children in their play and learning until lunch time. After lunch he often relooks at the space and makes changes based on the observations of the morning to try and offer some new experiences. “Then we lather the kids up with sunscreen and get back to the fun stuff.”
He has been recently appointed as the te reo mentor and curriculum co-ordinator at his centre. Te reo monitor involves ensuring the Maori language is used in every day centre life, and as curriculum co-ordinator he will be overseeing the implementation of a new idea for individual teachers to promote specific curriculum areas in centre planning and supporting them in this. He’s looking forward to the challenges that these new roles will bring and the opportunity to extend his knowledge and skill base.
“There’s so much more to the job than what most people think,” he says. “It is not very often that things get monotonous and there is always something happening.”
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