Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 34:7–22, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The aim of this study was to add to the research base by examining the impact of fieldwork with infants on the development of three preservice early childhood teachers.
The participants for this study were selected from the population of students enrolled in the preservice teacher preparation program and the infant and toddler practicum during the fall 2009 semester.
The preservice teachers’ perspectives and descriptions generated through individual interviews, reflective journals, and a focus group interview.
The results of this study suggest that the unique setting of the infant room may have pushed the preservice teachers to develop new skills, make powerful theory–practice connections, and rethink some of their initial beliefs about teaching and learning in ways that their previous experiences in more traditional classrooms did not.
Furthermore, the data show that it is within infant settings that preservice teachers can have valuable opportunities to practice and develop the skills and knowledge that many in the field of early childhood understand to be critical to quality teaching practices, such as learning about students through observation, trial and error, and collaborating with parents and families; building meaningful relationships with students; responding to the individual needs of the children; and supporting students’ self-initiated activities.
The preservice teachers in this study had few opportunities to experience them firsthand before conducting fieldwork at the child care center. As they began to directly benefit from communicating with the parents, following the infants’ leads, and building meaningful relationships with the students, their understanding of quality early childhood practices came to life in new ways and they began to think about how these approaches would strengthen their practice in different settings.
The author argues that it is important to note again that the infant room where the students conducted their fieldwork was not a typical infant classroom in many ways. The classroom was always very well staffed with teachers, practicum students, and work-study students. The adults who were in the classroom had a strong background in education or were taking classes on education. In addition, the curriculum and teaching practices in the infant room were child-centered and mirrored what the literature describes as high-quality care for infants and toddlers. These factors made this site quite different from most other group infant settings and other classrooms in general. Infant classrooms with rigid schedules and activities that do not respond to the needs of the infants would likely not provide the same rich learning opportunities inherent in high-quality classrooms.
Throughout this article, the authors has used research and the data of her student teachers’ experience to support the argument that the skills and knowledge gained through infant fieldwork could be applied to work in any classroom setting with any age. Before concluding, it is also important to note that infant fieldwork also helps preservice teachers develop the skills to work effectively with infants. Because of the profound impact that quality of infant care has on learning and development, it is critical that infants have high-quality care.
However, the underrepresentation of infants in early childhood teacher education programs perpetuates the dated societal view that infant teachers are like “babysitters,” which may keep well-prepared teachers from seeking jobs in infant classrooms. The participants in this study initially shared that they had never considered working with infants after leaving the program. By the end of the study, all three of them had changed their minds.