30 Years On:

reflecting on change

I’d like to see the continuation of the advancements in early childhood.
Last year the NSW IEU presented four early childhood teachers with their 30-year membership badges. This year the Union celebrates its 60th anniversary. Bedrock Journalist Suzanne Kowalski-Roth caught up with them to ask them to reflect on some of the changes they’ve witnessed during the past decades and what use they’d put a magic wand to if they could.

Kathy Toirkens: Teacher/Director, Braidwood Preschool Association

When Kathy Toirkens arrived to take up a teaching position at Braidwood Preschool Association little did she know that she’d love it so much she’d never leave.

“I joined the IEU because I was aware that in a community-based preschool I would be employed by volunteer parents who often have no experience in this area, so I wanted to have someone to call on for support and advice. I also strongly believe in adding my voice to the numbers of the Union in the work that it does in terms of lobbying and wage negotiations.

“Children are much more engaged in learning now as it’s much more meaningful to them and their future. I think it’s a better way to build stronger relationships with the children as they feel they are being listened to and valued.

“If I had a magic wand I’d wave it for pay parity for early childhood teachers and give big wage increases for the other educators in our services, so we’re paid a wage that reflects the value of our work. I’d also have much lower fees or free education.

“I’d like to see the continuation of the advancements in early childhood under the previous government. Their investment in and value of play-based learning was really quite significant. I know personally that our preschool would be struggling to be viable without that injection of funds.”

Jan Elder: Director,San Souci Preschool

Working with the late Betty Hobson, the early childhood advocate, in her first year out at Earlwood Uniting Preschool in 1976 helped instill a great passion for the sector in Jan Elder.

“In those early days I had 14 children with no other staff member to support me but I don’t recall ever being worried about that. I do recall the days being quite carefree and full of spontaneous experiences.

“I don’t think children have changed a lot. I think it’s society that has changed. I think expectations have changed and parents expect a lot more from their children’s teachers.

“Our role is more about educating parents and also supporting them.

“I think the NQF and EYLF have helped to put the emphasis back on family and community".

“I have called the IEU on many occasions to ask for support and they’ve always been there. I don’t know what I would have done without the Union. Over the last few years the IEU has been more involved in political issues, such as the importance of early childhood education and fighting for more funding and supporting better wages and conditions. I think it’s a wonderful organisation.

“If I had a magic wand I’d like to see more community based services and more support for services and teachers. I’d like to see the wages of early childhood teachers improve, especially to attract and retain good teachers. I’d like to include more practical experience in university training as I think that’s decreased over the years.”

Helen Inglis: Casual Teacher

Helen Inglis began teaching in 1968 in a single unit preschool in country Queensland for around $2000 per year, at a time when early childhood teachers were regarded as little more than charity workers. After an eye-opening stint working as an Early Childhood Teacher in London she came back to Sydney and began teaching with KU.

“My Director told me the Associated Masters and Mistresses Union (later to become the IEU) had just won coverage for early chilhdood teachers and was fighting for equal wages. I joined immediately. Knowing that I had the Union behind me was always a great source of support and information and even though I now only work a couple of days a week as a casual, it is still important.

“Over the years, I have seen many changes in children, their parents and the community.

“There are many more working mothers, more mobile families, a greater variety of family types and many more commercial long day services. Parents are much older and there is less support from the extended family. Now there is the expectation that children with additional needs will be integrated into mainstream services. All these changes have had a huge impact on the work we do, with an explosion of paperwork and legislated requirements.

“With my magic wand, I would conjure up better pay for all staff, more money to resource centres both with staff and equipment and enough places to give parents real choice.”

Janette Essery: Director, Goonellabah Preschool

Janette began teaching at St Mary’s Community Preschool in Casino in 1980 and joined the IEU after her Director recommended it. The isolation has since lessened due to advances in technology and better professional networks, Janette says.

“Parents seem to be much busier now and fewer parents have time to help in volunteer roles. When I first started teaching, parent volunteers on the committee were active in managing the daily operations. The secretary dealt with correspondence and the treasurer did the payroll. Parents actively fundraised for playground equipment, resources and building maintenance.

“New teachers need to be passionate about the rights of children and families within their community. Your role as an early childhood teacher is demanding but your dedication and commitment to early childhood education will be very rewarding.

“I’d advise new teachers to join local early childhood networks and broader community networks like the Yahoo preschool group and the IEU. We can learn so much from each other."

“I would use my magic wand to provide early childhood education with minimal fees to all two- to five-year-old children. Parents would be free to choose the type of early childhood service their child attends and the hours they can access.

“I would also ensure that all early childhood teachers would be paid the same wages as primary school teachers. Our professionalism, skills and knowledge is of equal significance to that of our colleagues in primary schools.”