Posts tagged taboos in ece
Posts tagged taboos in ece
Although I was not aware of an epidemic of preschool teachers running en masse to their local tattoo parlors, it seems as though the latest sound bite on the battlefield of “professionalism” is no more visible tattoos and/or piercings. Mind you now, it’s the folks in the offices and administrative buildings who are upset. I have yet to hear of a parent making a complaint, but anyway – here’s the deal – I guess some teachers are finding themselves no longer employed because of the Tigger/Flower/Heart/Star/Moon tattoo they have on their ankle (or wherever). “Why?” you ask. “Because it is visible,” they say. What I find very interesting is that in many cases the ink had always been visible, but only of late had become a problem.
I do workshops all over the country in (very) big cities and in (very) small towns. Point is that regardless of zip code, when similar issues, problems and questions start popping up here and here and here and here, I take note. And it tells me that something is going on; in this case, teachers from all over are sharing similar concerns about the warped definition of professionalism being enforced in the hallowed halls of education. When I hear that preschool teachers in California and Indiana are no longer allowed to wear jeans or T-shirts or sneakers I get frustrated. When I hear that early childhood educators in Texas are being required to wear heels and skirts, I get concerned. I begin to ask, “What’s happening here?”
SITUATION #1: Jeans at my school used to be OK. When I had on my (clean, blue, not skin tight, not ripped) jeans you could not see the tattoo on my ankle. But this year no one is allowed to wear jeans. We have to wear skirts, and guess what? Now you can see my tattoo! And how long have I had this tattoo?? For. ev. er. But now all of a sudden I am considered “less professional.” What to do?
DILEMMA #2: Piercings have been deemed “not OK.” What’s the problem here? Inconsistency. How? Ms. Dianna has 6 “regular” holes in her ears and no one seems to mind, but Ms. Jessica’s pierced eyebrow and Mr. Michael’s nose ring are getting negative press. Question: What prompted the new rule? What happened?
Question: DOES having a tattoo or piercing make you “less professional”??
Counter-question: Does the tattoo come with an ATTITUDE? Did the belly ring come with a chip on the shoulder? Does the eyebrow piercing come with a poor work ethic? Are we all of a sudden unable to get down on the floor, play tag, lift kids to the changing table, set up the room with activities because it might hurt/damage/destroy my pierced tongue, eyebrow, belly, nose?? Does the tongue ring come hand-in-hand with sloppiness, laziness and inattention to ones’ job performance?
If the answer to any of the above is YES then please forgive me for stating what I thought was obvious; being less “professional” has nothing to do with the fact one is tattooed or pierced and everything to with the fact that these characteristics and traits do not a good employee make. Regardless of the job.
Once again I feel that the real issue is our lack of communication skills. Instead of dealing with issues head-on as they occur, we attempt to manage from a distance in the form of memos and policy revisions. If someone is being inappropriate it is our job to go and talk to her! Not to pass a ruling from the comfort and safety of “the office” that we think will “deal with the problem.” So before we make a rule that says, “no one is allowed to wear jeans,” we need to examine where the need for this new rule came from.
Reality check: if in fact there is really only ONE PERSON who is wearing jeans that are too tight too small too ripped (or all of the above!) you do not need a rule. You need a meeting. You need to call little miss so-and-so into the office and tell her she needs to be wearing some DIFFERENT JEANS and then you need to be specific about the kind of jeans she CAN wear. That will begin to solve the problem.
But we don’t do this. Why not? Who knows? Some avoid conflict, some are worried the other will get mad/walk out/quit/yell/rebel, whatever… it still comes down to lack of communication. Regardless, we end up passing a rule that doesn’t apply to 99% of the people in the building and the one you passed the rule for doesn’t realize it’s for her! It doesn’t solve the problem.
Another reality check: people make judgments based on clothing, tattoos and piercings. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m saying that they do. But we also need to try very hard to see beyond the ink and the hole! And didn’t our mothers teach us this back in kindergarten anyway? To be nice? So yes, I am well aware that a huge colorful bleeding dragon flame throwing heart on the new toddler teacher’s forearm might be a bit distracting at first, but for cryin’ out loud! Get over it!!
ALTERNATIVE WAY OF DEALING WITH THE SITUATION: “Good Morning! This is Ms. Katelyn and she is our new teacher. She has lots of pictures/art/ink/tattoos (pick a word, a real word) on her arms! Come see!”
Then you know what you do? You look at it. Talk about it. The language and conversations that transpire will be magnificent! AND you will learn a lot about a lot of things along the way, IF. you. take. the. time. to. listen.
And, unless you make her hide her arms and wear long sleeves during the tenure of her employment, I guarantee the novelty and infatuation with her arms will not last much longer than a week. Two at tops. And then guess what??!! The novelty of her tattoos will wear off and she becomes simply, “Ms. Katelyn” which is much better than “the tattooed girl who works at Kiddie Kare World of Karing for Kids World.”
I remember a family I had in the preschool program years and years ago. Mom and dad had quite an alternative profession for this small conservative town. Their son (I’ll call him Daniel) always arrived right after naptime after having spent the earlier part of the day with his family. He arrived right about snack time and stayed through until 6:30 PM when he was picked up by grandma, who he stayed with each night while mom and dad worked their jobs. (They were, for the record, exotic dancers). This boy was loved, was provided for and was an all around well adjusted kid. More so than some of the other kids from more “traditional” families, but that, as I say, is another workshop. Anyway, point of the story is that one afternoon his mom and dad brought him in for snack and we ALL noticed that they weren’t talking. Daniel was playing with his friends but mom and dad were silent, and usually they were quite chatty, anyway, one of the kids asked them what was wrong. One of the KIDS mind you. Dad said, “Ree got ourr tongs bierced.”
He proceeded to stick out his newly pierced, and quite swollen, tongue. So did mom. Daniel added, “Yeah, and they can’t eat a lot. They have to keep it clean so it doesn’t get infected.” The children proceeded to look (but not touch), ask a few questions, “Did it hurt?” “Yes” “Like a shot?” “Yep.” “Did it have blood?” “Not really”….. The inquisition went on for about 10 minutes, and then, guess what?? It was OVER. Done.
Moral of the story, it’s a lot like everything else we deal with in our profession… want them to pick their nose? Tell them NOT to. Want them to not nap? Make a big deal of it. Want to make sure they eat the playdough? Tell them to STOP STOP STOP!!!
More recently, I had the pleasure of working not only with a male teacher in my preschool room, but a tattooed, male teacher with beautiful Celtic art on his arms; symbols that the children ended up incorporating into drawings and in their large easel art paintings too. And the children initiated it all. It wasn’t like we announced it was tattoo day. And since I have tattoos, and he had tattoos, that one day the dress up center organically morphed into a tattoo parlor was really no surprise. Did the level of professionalism decrease that day? I doubt it.
Now granted, “full disclosure” as I like to say, I was a player in the scenario, so I might be a bit biased, but the answer is still no. We had to make signs, we had to take turns, they had to negotiate how much we had to pay, we had to wait, we had to make an appointment… math, art, conversations, spatial skills (how to fit the drawing onto the arm?) social skills, language, fine motor (they tattooed us using washable markers), patience, creativity (they had to think of the designs), all being cultivated in the “tattoo parlor center.” It was fantastic.
We need to work at remembering that you do not become a professional all of sudden by getting a new outfit. Nor do you lose professionalism by piercing your eyebrow (unless it comes with an attitude problem, but we already talked about that!) We know this, but often have trouble acting on it. We could slap a suit on Laminated Lady, but it will not make her a better teacher. Why? Because passion, pride, dedication, commitment, and professionalism all come from the inside, out. And in a true professional you witness evidence of these characteristics on a daily basis regardless of what is inked on their arms or pierced through their nose. Let’s stop using personal preference as a measurement of “professionalism.”
© Lisa Murphy, Ooey Gooey, Inc. Originally written June 2006. Revised, edited & otherwise updated for a reposting on Facebook, May 2011. Reposted on the blog March 5, 2012.
A position statement, by Lisa Murphy
I use food in the classroom. Not to be a rebel. (Lisa Murphy, the food user!) I do it because I believe certain substances in the sensory tub provide a level of tactile exploration which is necessary for children. I have been known to use beans, rice, cornmeal and flour too. I use colored pasta for collage art and for stringing. I make ooblick out of cornstarch and water and do nylon splat painting with un-popped popcorn kernels. I use raw spaghetti and froot-loops for stacking. I use corn syrup for edible finger paint. I teach about chemical reactions with baking soda and vinegar. I have been known to paint with pudding. With my toes.
But every point has a counter point and every rule has an exception. The intention of this article is to share with you what I believe and why. Like any controversial topic, discussion of food usage in the classroom cannot be limited to oversimplified statements such as “I use food” or “I don’t use food.” You, as the educator, need to know why you have chosen one side or the other. You also need to realize that there could very well be a time when you find yourself on the other side of the fence. Are you ready for when that time comes? Have you examined all sides of the issue or are you just doing what you were told to do without ever having thought about it yourself?
Here is what I often hear on the road:
• It’s disrespectful to certain cultures and populations
• It’s wasteful
• In school they told us not to
• It teaches children to waste, play with their food, etc.
• Children are starving in some parts of the world
• We/I am aligned with ECERS or ITERS
• Licensing said I can’t use it
So, for the sake of conversation, let’s break it down. Here’s my input for your consideration:
POINT NUMBER ONE: One of my first student teaching assignments was in a child care center located in one of the housing projects in inner city Chicago. Out of respect for the drastic poverty many of these children lived in (some of the families slept in the abandoned cars in the parking lot), the program did not encourage using food in the classroom. As I have gotten older and (dare I say, wiser?) I like to think that courtesy and common sense, not a policy, should guide us to make a program choice such as this. If you know, and I mean know, that there are families in the program who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, then playing with beans and rice in the sensory tub is not a respectful choice. But knowing is different than assuming. And, if there really are families in this situation I would pose the following challenge: Are we assisting these families in getting the service and assistance they require or is our level of involvement making sure they aren’t “offended” by the contents of our sensory tub?
POINT NUMBER TWO: I believe that to “not use food” because years ago one of your college professors told you not to, is not necessarily the best plan either. As a professional you have a responsibility to think things through and make decisions that are in the best interest of the children in your current class. Not just run on auto pilot with what you were taught years ago. Children are always growing and changing. We should be too. If you have a child who is incredibly tactile and you are not providing ooblick because 10 years ago someone told you it was not okay to use corn starch (food products), you need to seriously consider the legitimacy of this rationale. Take what you learned from past mentors and teachers and make it your own. Add to it. Modify it. Adapt it. Change your mind. Continue deepening your education and awareness and knowledge of working with children. Your own personal growth should not stop once you get that diploma.
POINT NUMBER THREE: Remember that there is always a squeaky wheel. There will always be at least one mom or dad who doesn’t approve of the various activities you plan. To stop having dyed pasta for collage art, or colored rice in the sensory tub, or to not make the ever popular corresponding snack after reading Green Eggs and Ham because Mrs. So-and-So doesn’t think it’s okay, is NOT and I repeat, is NOT a good enough reason to change your philosophical position! If you go around changing everything each time she has a complaint you appear wishy-washy. And believe you me, for that parent, there is always something, and if it’s not using food it will be something else! So, what do you believe in? Why? Are you going to change the philosophy of your program for every parent who complains?
If you do, three things will happen: 1) you are going to create a lot of extra work for you and your staff, 2) you will appear too easily swayed by the slightest bit of blustery breeze and 3) you will undermine the credibility of the philosophy within the program because you are not standing up for what you believe in. Changing your mind and position is one thing. Having it constantly changed for you is another. A more long-term solution is to provide opportunities for conversations (both formal and informal) about the rationale and theory that support all of the activities provided at your program on an ongoing and regular basis.
POINT NUMBER FOUR: If you are going to align yourself with a “No Food” policy you really need to have thought about how far you are going to take it. How does making playdough fit into this rule? Think this through. Seriously. When folks tell me they “aren’t allowed to use food,” I love asking, “Do you make playdough?” And when they (always) say, “Yes.” It is hard for me to not point out that I can make a loaf of bread out of the ingredients that go into playdough. Are we sending inconsistent messages? Are some food items okay but some others are not? Who decided what was okay and what was not okay? How were these items chosen? Are all involved parties (staff, teachers, administration) clear not only on the items that are not okay but on the reasons why as well? Can all parties articulate a clear and confident position statement to anyone who asks about the “No Food” policy? Make it a priority to develop well thought out, informed decisions and not knee-jerk policies.
POINT NUMBER FIVE: There are, of course, common sense exceptions to any rule. Examples:
Allergies: Maybe little Kellie is allergic to flour. The reaction is so bad that she cannot touch it. In this case, we probably won’t be putting flour in the sensory tub this year. No worries. I would find something we could use instead though. What can we find that she can touch? There are plenty of options if we look hard enough. We need to be willing to find them. It also means that flour is not okay this year. We must resist the urge to institute a “no more flour ever” policy.
Religious Reasons: There are food no-no’s in many faiths. Be respectful and be prepared! Having this information prior to showing up with activities the following week avoided potential embarrassment and unintentional offenses.
Cultural Issues: I was teaching preschool in a suburban community with middle/upper middle class demographics. Wondering where the next meal was coming from was not a point of concern. I had quite a few children from Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean descent in my classroom. Some of the mothers came to me and said that the children playing with rice was kind of troublesome to them. The important note here is that the families came to me to discuss a concern they were having. I did not assume that because I had Asian children in my program that rice was not okay. See the difference? We didn’t have rice in the table that year. No big deal. Again though please let me reiterate, rice was not okay that year. This is different than making a new policy that now says rice is not okay ever.
POINT NUMBER SIX: If you have found that you are most comfortable on the “no food” side of the fence I would challenge you to make sure that you are finding various non-food materials to facilitate tactile and sensorial exploration. Cornmeal not OK? Fine, so what other kind of grainy soft substances are you using in the water table tub instead? Do not use the policy as an excuse to be lazy!
Sometimes at workshops there are a few folks who are very quick to say, “We can’t do that,” when I demonstrate something that might have a food material in it. Nylon splat painting comes to mind. Instead of them being so quick to shut down the possibility of doing the activity I would rather have them inquire of some substitutes. Could we use sand? Absolutely! How about dirt? Sure can! Some soft gravel bits? Of course. You need to be extra creative to make sure you are still providing substances for exploration. Check out various grains of sand, dirt and rock. Home and Garden stores are going to be a great resource for you. Have you tried mulch in the sensory tub? Have you ever planted grass and then had the kids cut it with scissors?? Be sure that your sensory tub center is not left wanting simply because you have said “no” to food materials.
POINT NUMBER SEVEN: Are you aligned with ECERS or ITERS? If so, you need to read the book a little bit closer. Nowhere in ECERS does it say you can’t use food. Infact, you get a higher score in your Sand/Water Table rating area if you use materials other than water and sand! And in ITERS all it says is that you can’t use food for art. So if your evaluator comes in while you have a table full of toddlers finger painting with pudding you call it a sensory experience.
Now hear me out on this, I’m not not not giving you permission to be snarky or rude. Nor do I want you to get fired! What I am doing is challenging you to actually be familiar with ANY and ALL documents that you are held accountable to. You have a responsibility to have an in-depth understanding of the policies governing you. You also have the right to make sure they are really policies and not personal preferences of someone who is only on site once a year. Which leads us to…
…POINT NUMBER EIGHT: If you have been told that licensing says you can’t use food, you have the professional responsibility to be so familiar with your regs that you know if it’s true or not. Where is that actually stated in the regs? What page is it on? If you are being told that you can’t use food because of licensing but no one can show you in the regs where it says that, you need to have a conversation with someone and figure out what’s going on. Are rules being enforced? Or interpreted? There is a difference. Take the time to figure it out.
Conclusion: Nothing is ever so nice, neat and tidy that it fits in a nice little box. The topic of using food in the classroom, and please pardon the pun, can be a sticky issue. Remember that it is okay to change your mind and to change your position. Maybe you currently don’t allow food usage but you think you might want to start exploring it. Maybe you do use food but for various reasons you are considering a change to the other “no food usage” side of the issue. Either way my message is simple – THINK!!!
Think it through, investigate all sides and beware of knee-jerk reactions. We want to encourage RE-flection, not RE-action. When it comes to making changes (food related or otherwise) you must do so only after thinking about it, talking about it and making sure you are aware of the reasons behind the changes. Constantly asking why why why!!?? Even changes for the better need to be thought through.
To be brutally honest, (and I have come to learn that that is what folks like about my style,) I don’t really care if you use food or not. I do, however, care deeply about whether or not you can talk about what you are doing and confidently articulate the reasons why. Can you have a professional dialogue (not everything has to be a debate) about what led you to adopt your position? Do you have a full grasp on the rationale behind your choice? Talking and thinking about things, not just going through the motions, is how we all continue on our journey of being the best that we can be for our children and families.
Originally © July 2006, Lisa Murphy, Ooey Gooey, Inc. All rights reserved. Reviewed, revisited and slightly updated prior to posting on Facebook © April, 2011 Reviewed, revisited and updated (ECERS, ITERS and Licensing commentary added) before posting to the blog, © February 2012