Early childhood teachers in primary school contexts

Year: 2002

Author: Stratigos, Tina, Patterson, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Prior to the 1970s, it was recognised in New South Wales that teachers who worked in the early years of primary school should have specialist teacher education. It is reasonable to suggest, however, that the majority of teachers currently employed in Australian primary schools completed a generalist primary teacher education program. There is a small group of teachers who work in these settings who have completed specialist early childhood teacher education. Little is currently known about the experiences of these teachers and the extent to which they believe they are able to implement early childhood approaches within the primary context. This research aimed to explore how early childhood teachers working within primary schools perceived the influence of three aspects of the professional knowledge landscape (Clandinin & Connelly, 1995), (a) their personal beliefs and experiences, (b) their early childhood teacher education, and (c) the school environment and culture. Characteristics of schools that the teachers believed supported or discouraged early childhood practices in the early years of school were also investigated.

Data was collected by conducting in-depth interviews with eight early childhood teachers working in the early years of primary school. Findings were analysed by a process of reading and re-reading interview transcripts to identify emergent themes.

Findings indicated that the teachers felt they were significantly influenced both by their personal beliefs and experiences, and their early childhood teacher education. These two aspects were perceived by the teachers to be compatible and in many cases had merged into a unified belief system about teaching. The school context was influential in relation to class size, physical environment, the curriculum, and school cultures. Recommendations are made for schools, the NSW Department of Education and Training, the Board of Studies NSW and teacher education programs to increase support for early childhood teachers in the first years of primary school.