This is one of a series of blogs featuring first-person accounts from early educators across Massachusetts.
My name is Shelby Holt and I work as a K2 Teacher & Grade Level Leader at Match Community Day Public Charter School in Hyde Park, Mass. I studied early childhood education at university; however, I’ve been in the field since I was 16!
After my father’s encouragement to discover a fitting career path during high school (maybe so I’d remain a bit more focused on my studies!!), I found my first internship at a Head Start program in Framingham, Mass. Since then I’ve remained passionate about early childhood education: I’ve been teaching and leading in Massachusetts, New York, and London since 2008. (And being a big sister — I’d like to think that I’ve been an early childhood educator since 1990.)
I feel an adrenaline rush each morning when my alarm goes off. As I drive to school I make a myriad of decisions for how the classroom will feel and look that day. Every job is important, but being an early childhood educator means that I get to help all the children in my class prepare to be successful in the future. I’m sure anyone reading this can recall a particular moment from their time in kindergarten. So much of it is magically formative. I remind myself that each day I could cause a breakthrough memory in a little heart.
I think the best way to support families is to be warm, honest, and to show data of growth. Parents want someone who is practical, supportive, humble and straight-forward. It’s important to have regular face-to-face meetings – the more, the better!
I am most proud of my tenacity and versatility as an educator. These two may seem at odds, so let me explain. We face a barrage of obstacles in urban education, yet, I’ve never left it. Each year, I remain steadfastly determined to provide every child in my classroom with an organized, enriching, play-based and skills-focused education. My determination that all children, regardless of background or socio-economic status, can and will develop rigorous academic skills and deepen their social well-being is something I’m proud of.
Yet, resolve alone cannot be the early educator’s answer (I’ve learned that the hard way at times). I have to continually push myself to be flexible, open-minded, and outward-looking. Many times, I hear, ‘There’s no time/room/space for that!’ or ‘My kids don’t like that!’ Those are the moments I become really creative. Because, if we don’t make time/room/space for the things that matter to our youngest learners, and if we don’t encourage new ways of being in our classrooms, how will our pupils ever be ready to tackle the road ahead?
These two qualities of mine came together in one poignant classroom project. A recent pupil struggled with regulation and had a particular distaste for literacy. Despite the progress he made each day, he would apprehensively ask me, “Can you read this?” During blocks one day, he recognized that we didn’t have any vitally important Lego people. After a few pleas for me to buy some, I encouraged him to start a class project. Over the next two weeks, he dutifully made lists and wrote letters, without worrying if he was making mistakes! He gave speeches, conducted research on the subject, and gathered a small team in the art area to make their own Lego paper dolls. Suddenly the arduous skills of writing, self-regulation, and cooperation were all highly internalized. In the end, his passion and efforts inspired the class to vote that they’d rather laminate and use the paper dolls he’d created than buy new ones. It was a really authentic and definitive moment for him.
I received my undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education & Human Development with a minor in Special Education from Boston College. Throughout my student teaching at BC, I recognized that so much of my training had been focused on academics, but nearly all students needed more social emotional support than I felt equipped to provide. So I decided to study childhood mental health through the Risk & Prevention M.Ed. (now called Prevention Science & Practice) at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. There, I had a year-long internship providing therapeutic supports in a school-based counseling department. Since Harvard, I’ve taught with Uncommon Schools in Brooklyn, NY, with ARK Schools in London, and at Match in Boston.
I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity for professional development; I find connecting with other educators utterly inspiring and enormously humbling. And being part of two major charter networks allowed me to have many enriching professional development programs. In New York, I loved learning from the pedagogical guru, Doug Lemov & his Teach Like a Champion team.
In London, though, I really deepened my early childhood education practice. Being in Europe where there is state-provided education from the age of 3 was great. So was experiencing the influence of the Reggio Emilia practice.
Through ARK in London, I continued my education with the Future Leaders program and obtained my NPQSL [National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership]. I became a coach for the early years team and absolutely adored the whole-child pedagogical approach which is so striking in British education.
Looking to the future, I would like to gain more expertise in early childhood management policy in the urban environment. As I see it, U.S. parents and teachers are too financially restricted in their work with children age 0-5, and therefore early education programs are limited in many ways. But as we know, these are crucial ages for social, emotional, and academic learning. I don’t know if I could ever fully leave the classroom, but I’d like to have more of an influence in the financial and structural policies that I find limiting.
Policymakers please come visit my K2 classroom; there are 20 little minds who’d love to meet you!
My favorite children’s book — there are so many! — but, at a push, I’d say “Island Born” by Junot Diaz. It’s refreshing, honest, relatable, and beautifully vibrant.