Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Traditional Practices, New Possibilities: Transforming Dominant Images of Early Childhood Teachers

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Traditional Practices, New Possibilities: Transforming Dominant Images of Early Childhood Teachers

Article excerpt

Introduction

Images are one of the ways we make sense of the world. An image is `an idea, mental representation, or conception that has a visual or physical flavor, an experiential meaning, a context or history, and a metaphorical, generative potential' (Weber & Mitchell, 1995, p. 21). Films, teacher preparation, literature, research, television, folklore etc. communicate particular representations of what it means to teach young children. Given these numerous sources shaping the professional identities of teachers, it would seem to follow that there exist multiple images of early childhood educators. However, whether it be popular culture or our own professional knowledge base, early childhood teaching tends to be reduced to two dominant stereotypes: that of the good, sensitive, and nurturing developmentally appropriate educator or his/her antithesis, the autocratic developmentally inappropriate educator (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997).

Recently, however, several studies employing feminist and poststructural concepts to examine teaching strategies aimed at gender equity (e.g. Davies, 1990; MacNaughton, 1997; Walkerdine, 1990) have begun to call into question this dichotomy and its portrayal of the good early childhood teacher. Feminist poststructuralists argue that there is `nothing essential about the identities of who a teacher is or becomes--it is only through particular discourses that teachers can be viewed as possessing essential qualities' (Britzman, 1991, p. 223). Discourses are socially and historically constituted systems of ideas or fields of meaning that exercise particular power effects by validating certain knowledges over others that differentiate true from false and determine what can be said and done by whom (Foucault, 1980). According to feminist poststructuralists, the dominance of the developmental discourse in early childhood education establishes the identity of the developmentally appropriate educator as the most correct form of teaching (Walkerdine, 1984). By defining good early childhood teaching through its relation of difference to developmentally inappropriate teaching, the developmental discourse limits the kinds of interventions teachers might take in young children's learning about gender.

Good teachers are not supposed to be directive of children's learning but should encourage children to make choices and take some authority for their own learning. Consequently, developmentally appropriate educators have often tried to address gender inequities in the classroom by setting up non-sexist learning environments that facilitate children's reconstruction of their understanding of gender through play. For feminist poststructuralists such a position is problematic because the focus of the teacher's gaze is not so much on gender but on creating practices that are in tune with children's ways of knowing and patterns of development (MacNaughton, 1997). Consequently, the responsibility for change is placed with children while in their position of supporter of children's development, exemplary teachers tend to assume that the dominant gendered power relations being reproduced in and through children's play is innocent and age-appropriate behaviour (Walkerdine, 1990). Critics of the developmental discourse argue, therefore, that good early childhood teachers are often apolitical carers of the young (Silin, 1995) who need to reposition themselves from the image of facilitators of children's learning to that of interventionists; teachers who take a proactive and explicit political stance with children against social inequities.

In this article we examine this image of early childhood teachers as interventionists by employing feminist poststructuralism to interpret the gender equity practices of two American kindergarten teachers(ii). We use these teachers' practices to argue that becoming interventionists does not necessarily imply reversing the current dichotomy to favour developmentally inappropriate teaching, but instead requires reconstructing the knowledge base to expand our definitions of what constitutes good teaching. …

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