Early Childhood Why getting early childhood education right could change the world

Simone Callaghan Dawson Lucas believes getting early childhood education right could change the world. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

When Simone Callaghan Dawson Lucas left the advertising industry for preschool teaching, she found her passion and her calling.

Simone Callaghan Dawson Lucas had a strong feeling that being a teacher was part of her destiny. It was uncanny the way that whenever she was at a large gathering the children always gravitated towards her.

“It’s always been that way. And I’d find myself preferring to hang around with the kids than the adults! I’ve always been intrigued about the way children learn and the way they process information, so that’s what drove me to completely rethink my career,” Simone says.

She was working in the ‘dog-eat-dog’ world of the advertising industry when a chance conversation with a family friend inspired her to become a teacher. The friend was speaking passionately about how much she loved studying early childhood education and care at TAFE, and convinced Simone to take a leap of faith. She hasn’t looked back since, beginning at TAFE and now teaching in early childhood. She loves how spontaneous and diverse her day can be.

“One minute I’m gardening, the next minute I’m singing and dancing, telling a story or comforting children when they’re distressed,” Simone says. “Above everything, the thing I value most about my work is making a difference, because where I’m teaching is a very diverse area with incredibly complex needs. I’ve had parents say, ‘I wish I could bring my older child back so you could teach him.’ Getting compliments like that just mean the world to me.”

“Certain behaviour is a form of communication and that child is trying to tell you something. If we listen to children rather than judge, we can see a totally different child.”

Beyond the classroom, Simone is tireless when it comes to actively advocating for students and their families. It’s her passion and compassion for these families that dominates her entire philosophy of teaching, particularly when it comes to children who have been labelled ‘difficult’.

“We’re increasingly seeing children who are not yet diagnosed or formally assessed with learning and developmental delay. This year I’ve had one-third of the group present with delay in one or more areas, so that has significantly changed the way I teach. It means I must incorporate a lot of resources to support those children.

“It also means a lot of on-the-job training to make sure other educators are accessing the toolbox of resources to support those children rather than becoming frustrated by a particular child’s behaviour,” Simone says.

“Certain behaviour is a form of communication and that child is trying to tell you something. If we listen to children rather than judge, we can see a totally different child.”

“I feel strongly that we’re never going to reach the level of maturity and sophistication we need as a nation until we really change the systems we’ve currently got – and this means investing heavily to turn around the lives of those who are disadvantaged.”

A key challenge for Simone, which she believes many teachers share, is ‘compassion fatigue’.

“It can be exhausting. So many things weigh heavily on my mind,” Simone says. “For example, when I’ve got a child who has travelled back to Afghanistan, I worry about those kids when they’re away. I had a child who, a few years ago, went to the Philippines to visit family. Then, I heard there was a typhoon over there and I was so worried!”

On top of her hectic work schedule, Simone makes a valuable contribution to the AEU’s campaigns related to early childhood education – specifically for government funding for three and four- year-old preschool in Victoria.

She has been getting active on social media, speaking to the office of her local member as well as education minister James Merlino, and attending several rallies in her campaign t-shirts. It has been gratifying to see the impact of those campaigns, she says.

“It is very satisfying to know the Victorian government now recognises the importance of preschool education. But I feel strongly that we’re never going to reach the level of maturity and sophistication we need as a nation until we really change the systems we’ve currently got – and this means investing heavily to turn around the lives of those who are disadvantaged.”

Despite the introduction of the national early youth curriculums, Simone says it will take a generation for them to come to fruition.

“It hasn’t brought about the outcomes that we want for children and families, because there’s too much sectoral focus on outcomes where you just tick a box – for example, ‘Yes, the child can do this now’.

“Instead of constantly ticking boxes, we need to look at the foundation of play-based learning and our practice and principles, which require considerable critical reflection. This should be the focus rather than the actual learning outcome.

“We can and must change the systems that deliver early childhood education. In turn, we will change the world. We owe it to this generation and to the next.”

And another thing… 10 Questions for our members!

bucket loads of passion, endless compassion, an open heart and mind.

nothing. Bring all of you. Parents relate to you as a human. When they can see that some days are tough, they appreciate that you show up even when it is difficult.

‘Assume nothing’ – Da. ‘Walk a mile in their shoes’ – Mum.

join the AEU to receive a range of benefits and support.

Mrs Bell, my kindergarten teacher, Granville South Primary. She gave us time to lie down and listen to relaxation music after lunch. It helped us to refocus and recharge for the afternoon.

those who transcend adversity, who follow their dream; the rise of the phoenix is truly inspirational to see.

The Hundredth Monkey by Ken Keyes Jnr. I read this is Year 8 and learnt that social change was possible.

a crazy indoor plant woman, a crazy chicken woman, and the best in-car rock concert performer you will ever see (think Janis Joplin meets Sinead O’Connor meets Florence Welch).

I would share my experiences and stories from working in two states over 20 years and explain why there is no doubt of the benefits to investment in early years education.

engage in activism and advocacy, provide opportunities for professional development and networking, and ensure workers’ rights are defended. There is strength in numbers!

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