This is one of a series of blogs featuring first-person accounts from early educators across Massachusetts.
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My name is Wheeler DeAngelis. I am a Teaching Fellow at Lemberg Children’s Center at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. My first experience in the field was when I was a high school senior and volunteered for a child development class in a local elementary school, but I’ve been teaching professionally for two years.
I graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2015. I was a member of the Early Childhood Development and Education cohort – which I cannot speak highly enough about. UConn’s program focuses not only on the science of teaching (brain development, milestones, etc.) but also on the art of teaching (classroom management, parent interactions, and co-teaching). What really drew me to the program was the fact that it offers fieldwork and student teaching opportunities with infants and toddlers as well as preschoolers.
I think everyone who teaches young children has, at some point, been at a party where someone asked the same perplexing, astigmatic, exasperating question, “What can you teach babies?” The obvious answer is “EVERYTHING!” but as that rarely seems to satisfy people’s curiosity, I’ve come to rely on an analogy.
“You have to think of a child as a house,” I will say. “When you walk into a house the first thing you see are the furnishings; the furniture, the paint, the rugs. If you have a really good eye you might notice the structure of the house; the floors, the door frames, the staircases. But almost no one notices the foundation; the framing and stonework that get hidden beneath all those other layers — but give the house its shape and keep it standing. So, in terms of education, the furnishing is your secondary education, it represents the cultivated and specialized you that you present to the world. The structure is your primary education, the knowledge, understanding, and biases that your whole world view is built upon. But the foundation, that is your early childhood education. Your autonomic skills that shape who you are and how you are able to interact with the world around you: your ability to cope with adverse situations, your moral compass. This is what you teach to babies, the skills to meet life’s challenges and the compassion to help others do the same.”
One skill that I’m particularly proud of as an early educator is that I have yet to meet a child who I can’t put down for a nap (knock on wood). But on a more serious note, the real pride I find in my work is in the relationships that I get to take part in. T. Berry Brazelton said, “The stresses on most families are out of proportion to anything two parents alone can handle.” I think about that a lot because providing a support system for families and keeping relationships thriving is really the heart of our work. Whether it be teacher-child, teacher-parent, or most importantly, parent-child, the work of initiating, nurturing, and mediating relationships takes up most of our time. But it’s worth it because there is no better feeling than a classroom community that’s in harmony.
There is an unfortunate disconnect between the world of education and the world of policymakers, and that gap is the widest when it comes to early childhood education. I think that if you are not involved in the educational process every day, than it becomes really easy to see it as a small part in the lives of some of your constituents, most of whom can’t even vote yet.
There are great scholarly arguments for why we should be investing in early childhood (when you’re done reading this, Google the “Heckman Equation”) and I think it’s important to get that message out there, but we’ve been making those arguments to deaf ears for years. I think we have two realistic choices: we can either get more teachers into elected offices or we need to get policymakers on the floor in our classrooms with us were they can see the time, money, and effort that goes into every child, every day. Only then will they finally see that we are not babysitters, we are scientists, and we need to be funded as such.