An Interview with Dianna Zink
“It is amazing to work with children and to help them develop a love of learning.”
Dianna Zink is the Director of the Early Learning Campus at University of Louisville. Dianna has a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Physical Education. She also holds numerous certifications related to early childhood education.
Dianna directed an early childhood center for 14 years and was an elementary school principal before taking up her current position. She also developed the curriculum for a child development associates degree program, and taught college courses in early childhood education for 6 years.
In your own words, what is early childhood education?
Early childhood education is the field concerned with providing a safe and productive learning environment for children from 0 to 8 years of age. There are many different methods of supporting childhood education, but a vital component of the curriculum for young children is the opportunity to discover and learn through play. Teachers for children in this age range are facilitators who set up a learning environment and support children in their independent process of discovery.
What classes do you teach in early childhood education?
I currently run the childhood development center at the University of Louisville, but in the past I taught classes for the childhood development associates degree program. The curriculum for that program consists of 8 skill areas, which include planning a safe, healthy learning environment; steps to advance children’s physical and intellectual development; positive ways to support children’s social and emotional development; management strategies for an effective program; maintaining a commitment to professionalism; observing and recording children’s behavior; and the principles of child development and learning. These areas of study incorporate everything that students need to know to start a career teaching students between the ages of 0 and 8.
How long have you been a professor of early childhood education?
I developed curriculum for students of early childhood education and taught associate degree students for 6 years. Now I am the director of the early childhood education center at the University of Louisville, and I have also worked as a principal, preschool teacher and early childhood consultant.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in studying early childhood education,” what would your response be?
I would tell them that it is a wonderful field, but I would also ask them why they are interested in studying early childhood education. If they don’t have a passion for working with children and helping children get a good start in life, they may not enjoy the profession. Unfortunately, early childhood educators do not earn much money, so it is important to be naturally motivated to work in this area.
But there are some great benefits to working in childhood education too. It is amazing to work with children and to help them develop a love of learning. Many children feel overwhelmed by school and give up on learning as early as the third grade, but competent early childhood educators can lay a foundation that will help children excel in school. It is very fulfilling to play such an important role in children’s lives.
In your opinion, what are the biggest hurdles or difficulties that students entering an early childhood education program have?
In the past, 1 difficulty that early childhood education students faced was that other people regarded the field as glorified babysitting. But the first years of a child’s development are really the most important in his or her life, so it is vital to have teachers who are trained to help a child get the most out of an early education. The general public is starting to recognize the importance of trained childhood educators, so the profession has become better respected.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as an early childhood educator and what traits would hinder success?
Some traits that you must have if you want to succeed in childhood education are a love of learning, a sense of humor and patience. For one thing, the field is gradually changing as psychologists study childhood development, so you will need to stay on top of current knowledge in the field if you want to give your students the best education possible. Second, you should have a good sense of humor. Children learn best when lessons are fun and entertaining, and it is easier to bring laughter into the classroom if you already enjoy humor. Finally, you must be patient to enter any career that involves working with children. Kids in the early age group can be challenging to deal with, but you have to stay calm and supportive, even when your students are misbehaving.
The personality trait that would really hinder you from succeeding in early childhood education is if you are close-minded and very set in your ways. There is a lot to learn before you become an early childhood educator and you will need to keep learning throughout your career. If you refuse to adapt your teaching techniques, you will not do well in this field.
What courses in early childhood education are most important for a student to take?
The most important courses for an early childhood education student to take are child management and adult-child interaction. Child management covers the ways that children deal with social-emotional issues in this age group. It is a useful topic for early childhood educators because our goal is to help the children learn to regulate their own emotions and resolve conflicts on their own. We have to understand what children experience to be able to steer them in the right direction.
Adult-child interaction is another important class about the effects that our words and actions have on children. For example, it is better to thank a child for putting a toy away than it is to say “good job,” which is a form of praise that could teach the child to look for approval from an adult instead of developing a sense of self-esteem. This course helps us develop an awareness of the unintended effects that our behavior has on children.
Outside of early childhood education, what courses would you recommend to a student?
I would recommend taking courses in general psychology and special education. Psychology will help students understand personalities and some of the tools of behavior modification, which are useful when you are trying to stop a child’s negative behavior. Also, I would recommend taking a course on special education. It is important to address the needs of students with developmental delays as soon as possible.
For a student who is not interested in an academic career, what is the optimal level of education needed for a job in the field of early childhood education?
The optimal level of education that you will need to work in early childhood education depends upon the specific job that you want to perform. For instance, if you are interested in becoming an assistant at an early childhood education center, the minimum level of education you need is an associates degree. If you want to lead an early childhood education center, you will need at least a bachelors degree, although I recommend getting a masters degree. The additional courses and research involved in graduate-level study can really benefit you if you take on a leadership position.
What is the job outlook for students with degrees in early childhood education?
The job outlook in early childhood education is excellent. There are more families in which both parents work and cannot care for their children during the day, so the need for early childhood educators is rising.
Most graduates with early childhood education degrees work at childcare centers. Bachelors degree graduates tend to look for lead positions, and associates degree graduates take on assistant positions. To help improve their job prospects, students should complete internships at a number of different centers to learn how they are managed. It is also important to take on some administrative tasks while completing an internship because those skills will be very valuable to students who manage their own centers after graduation.
How can undergraduate students prepare themselves if they are interested in studying early childhood education at the graduate level?
Undergraduates students should prepare themselves to study early childhood education at the graduate level by majoring in early childhood education or in a related subject like elementary education. They should also read articles in early childhood development to become familiar with the research in this area. Important research topics include language and literacy, social-emotional development and special education.
Also, students should visit schools that they are interested in attending to find out what resources the schools offer. The University of Louisville has a child development center on campus, so graduate students can observe interactions between children and teachers and work in the center.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying early childhood education?
The most important advice for students considering early childhood education is to make sure that they are passionate about the work itself. Some professionals put up with unhappy work environments because they earn a large amount of money, but early childhood educators have the opposite problem. They earn a low salary, but they get to work in a fun environment and help children develop into successful adults. However, if students are not motivated by that goal, they may want to reconsider studying early childhood education.