Friday, November 23, 2012

Teachers getting close...

The teacher kisses the child goodbye at the end of her shift. Blowing kisses, maybe... but actively seeking out children to kiss them? My first reaction was almost anger, but in hindsight was probably jealousy – could I – a male teacher – safely kiss a child? Do I want to? How would such a desire sit with my professionalism? The code of ethics and adult initiated gratification?

So I pondered (and observed my kissing colleagues) and have made the decision to NOT kiss any children at my centre. Despite reading into the repositioning of love and care into our professional paradigm, as a male teacher, I think it's a bridge too far. I've also questioned the depth of my feelings – do I really feel love to the point of wanting to kiss? How I feel about my own children is vastly different from the feelings I have for the tamariki at work. It's hard to put into words, but the depth of my care for their well-being does not in my opinion move into 'love'. I know that love and care are words that have a lot of significance for early childhood teachers when they talk about their work – for many it's a central motivator for being in the profession: they love being with children.

At Carmen Dali's recent lecture here at Victoria University in Wellington she talked of re-conceptualising our ideas on love and care so they form the foundations of teaching in ECEC. She recognised the danger that our new professional discourse of teaching rather than mothering or caring for children “could end up valuing the brain over the heart, and knowledge above the care and love”. Was there a way to to rehabilitate love and care in our discourse about what we do, in a way that did not create a political bludgeon that detractors could use to diminish us with?

Welcome Lisa Goldstein. She suggests that the solution would be to develop an understanding of caring that not only positions it as a 'feeling' word but as rooted in theoretical framework which would overturn the historical 'hegemony of nice'. A way to do this would be to adopt a feminist moral theory perspective as the theoretical framework to teaching. The key principles would be the “unending obligation to meet the other as one-caring”. In other words:

  • with engrossment
  • with full attention
  • with receptivity to the other's perspective and situation
  • in a state of 'feeling-with' the cared for, not through a sense of projection but by reception, and thus being able to see and feel with the other
  • with motivational displacement: i.e. By giving primacy, even if momentarily, to the goals and needs of the other

Goldstein also argues that it is possible to see the care-orientation to teaching as complimentary to Vygotsky's model of cognitive development where the zone of proximal development is a shared intellectual space created by the adult and the child. She argues that this shared interpersonal space where adult and child co-construct knowledge can be separate into two parallel dimensions: the inter-psychological dimension and the inter-relational dimension with the latter being an affective/emotional/feeling space created when an adult and child interact. She argues that eh very first thing that begins in any teacher/learner type relationship is this inter-relational aspect. Goldstein suggests that both adult and child are motivated to enter into these learning relationships by the pleasure and satisfaction they get form the interpersonal connection, and she calls this 'the pedagogical power of caring'.

I know that all learning grows from a secure emotional base – that's basic Pikler/attachment theory 101 – but does this respect and care evolve into love and from there the physical expressions of such love?

This link to Vygotsky's ZPD and the idea of intersubjective spaces excites me. It's a logical link really: we gather in learning environments because they satisfy us on so many levels. But the questions remain. Can this foundational 'love' translate into physical manifestations like kissing? Who holds the power in such as act? Is this ethical?

Personally, I'll be saving the kisses for my own kids.


Dali, C. (2006). Re-visioning love and care in early childhood: Constructing the future of our profession. The First Years Nga Tau Tuatahi. NZ Journal of Infant and Toddler Education. 8(1).

Goldstein, L. (1998). More than gentle smiles and warm hugs: applying the ethic of care to early childhood education. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 12(2)