An Interview with Brittney Osborn
“I love to see the excitement and enthusiasm that young children have for learning, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Brittney Osborn is an early childhood educator at a private Montessori school in Bellevue, Washington. She teaches kindergarten to children aged 5 to 7.
Brittney has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and a Master of Science in Behavioral Social Sciences. Although she currently specializes in early childhood education, she used to teach sixth grade. She says the best thing about teaching is seeing the progress her students make and their enthusiasm for learning.
In your own words, what is an early childhood educator?
Early childhood educators are the people who facilitate a child’s emotional and behavioral development. It is important to make sure that children become independent and responsible because they are going to need those traits in the future.
Because I believe in the value of early childhood education, I teach kindergarten at a private Montessori school, which promotes a different philosophy of teaching than a public school. Instead of moving all children ahead at the end of the school year, it is my job to assess their social and academic progress in order to determine when they are ready to move up to the next level. It is about modeling appropriate behavior for children and giving them the tools to unfold as naturally as possible without rigid schedules. I am enthusiastic about this style of education and I think it serves children well.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming an early childhood educator,” what would your response be?
I would emphasize the importance of being passionate about teaching. Students should not choose teaching simply because they are not sure what else to do. They need to love being around children because they will be surrounded by them 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
What level of education is necessary to become an early childhood educator?
The level of education that is necessary depends on whether you teach at a private school or a public school. I can’t speak to the standards at a public school since I teach in a specific area of the private sector, but if you want to work as a lead teacher at a Montessori school, you need a bachelors degree. It doesn’t have to be in education, but it should be in a field that deals with understanding people, such as psychology or communication.
Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become an early childhood educator?
Yes, there are a couple of certifications that you need to obtain. All early child educators need to go through STARS training, which is the State Training and Registry System. It teaches you the basics of childcare. You also go through CPR and child safety courses.
If you want to become a Montessori teacher, you have to earn special certification through an additional training process. The training is online and it takes about 1 and a half years to complete. You can’t work for Montessori without the certification because it teaches you about the philosophy of the schools, which is very different than what you would learn in a regular teacher training course.
Why did you decide to become an early childhood educator?
I became a kindergarten teacher because it is the most exciting job that I can imagine waking up to every morning. I love to see the excitement and enthusiasm that young children have for learning, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What were the biggest misconceptions that you had about becoming an early childhood educator?
One misconception that I had about becoming a teacher is that it would make me never want to have children. Even though many people told me this, it has not been true in my case. I don’t have any kids right now, but I can’t wait to be a mother.
Another misconception I had was that dealing with parents would be the most difficult part of this job. But I think that if teachers keep an honest line of communication going with the parents of their students, they can form good relationships with them. If parents know that you genuinely care about the well-being of their child, it makes it easier to handle issues when they do come up.
What do you enjoy most and least about being an early childhood educator?
One aspect of my job that I enjoy is the attitude of children at this age. In the early phases of their education, they really love to learn new things and they look up to their teacher. It motivates me to do a great job.
However, what I enjoy least is the rate of pay. For me, that is the most challenging part of my teaching career. Teachers work very hard but do not get compensated well. I have to make a lot of material sacrifices in order to do the job that I love.
What is a typical week like for you?
In a typical week, I work from 7:30 a.m. to about 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. School lasts from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., but I come in early to prepare for the day and I usually stay for at least an hour after my students go home in order to set up for the next day or meet with parents. Luckily, I do have an assistant who helps to keep the class in line and manages the students during recess and the after-school program. That takes some of the pressure off of me.
Our classroom procedures are based on routines. We start each day with an hour of “work time,” in which students choose what they need to work on. If they want snacks, they serve themselves. They get recess outside, and then they come back for “circle time,” which is when I teach them the day’s lesson. We have lunch, after which they choose to work on either reading or math. They get another snack and then another hour of “work time,” followed by enrichment of some sort. Depending on the day, enrichment is gym, art, music or yoga. They leave after enrichment and I start to prepare for the next day.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
I try my best to keep my work and personal life very separate. Sometimes that is difficult, because I am always excited about whatever we are doing in class and there is always something to be done. But I think it is important to find that happy medium so that your home doesn’t turn into your workplace. I have to remember that I don’t get paid when I am home.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as an early childhood educator and what traits would hinder success?
Early childhood educators should be patient, articulate and creative. For a teacher, the most valuable trait is patience. That is not a trait you can learn, but it is essential to running your classroom well. Good communication skills are also important because you have to be able to effectively teach small children as well as interact with other adults, including parents and teachers. Finally, creativity is a must. If you can’t make your lessons interesting to both your students and yourself, you will quickly become bored.
An example of a trait that would hinder success is irritability. Naturally, if you are an irritable person, you won’t do well as an early childhood educator. You cannot come to work angry or snap at your students, even on days when you don’t feel up to the job. You really have to be able to separate your work life from your emotions.
Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?
I would not change anything about my formal education. Even though I do not use my masters degree every day, I think that all education is valuable. I am very happy with the path that I took and the work that I do now.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming an early childhood educator should pursue?
One experience that I recommend for people who think they want to work with children is to be present in a classroom as much as you can before you decide to go into the teaching profession. Student teaching is an invaluable hands-on experience, but you should work with children in any capacity that you can before you do that. Volunteer with children’s programs and activities. Those types of experiences will prepare you better than anything. I found my coaching experience to be particularly helpful, but there are other ways too.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most and least valuable for the work you do today?
The most useful classes I took were my psychology and behavioral science classes. So much of what I do is about shaping the behavior of children and trying to see things from their perspectives. I also use the skills I learned in my kinesiology classes because I have to be prepared for accidents at all times.
I also think it is important to take courses in behavioral theory and child development so that you can understand why a child acts a certain way. You have to know that kids develop different skills on their own timelines, not according to a prescribed chart.
I haven’t used any of the information I learned in my core education classes, however, though I would not say those classes lack value. I just don’t use upper level math and science to teach kindergarten. That knowledge isn’t wasted, but it doesn’t help me in my job.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming an early childhood educator?
If you are interested in becoming an early childhood educator, you need to be fully aware that you will not get paid very much compared to other careers. You need to understand the sacrifices you will have to make in order to be an educator. It may get to the point that you have to make a decision to do without certain material items in order to pay the bills. And if you can do that, this is a great career.