Interview with Janice Shields

Name: Janice Shields

City of Residence: Salt Spring Island, BC

Occupation: Strong Start Facilitator

How long have you been….an ECE?

I received my diploma 31 years ago and did a bit prior to earning my diploma. I worked at a 24 hour child care facility (it was actually open about 20 hours a day) in Regina before College and University.

What inspired you to become an ECE?

I have always enjoyed children and did a lot of babysitting when I was young. I started at the University of Regina, in Education but I wasn’t quite getting what I wanted in the area of child development. I enjoyed the psychology & sociology classes. I went to Sault Ste Marie College and obtained my 2 year ECE Diploma in 1985 as well as taking some courses at Algoma University and then later to the University of Victoria in the Child and Youth Care Program.

What keeps you here?

They’re just so darn fun and a wonder. They are so present, which keeps me present. It’s a joy! I mostly work with children age 3 and under although our Strong Start program is for 0 – 5.

Settle the debate for us: Job or Profession?

Profession. I get “paid to play” and now you know that we talk about the value of play whereas 20 – 30 years ago it didn’t have the same recognition.

What does professionalism look like in the child care sector today?

Definitely dedication. I ended up in Ottawa for quite a while and got involved in Child Care advocacy from a local to federal level.  It seems that the issues are still the same as they were in the 90’s although with some more recognition of support for families. I might get a bit more involved in this area. Back then I didn’t have a family – and was supported to be an advocate through my work. I recall flying to Toronto and lots of lobbying on Parliament Hill.

In the 1980s the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care—Martha Friendly, Jane Bertrand and many others, were a powerful group of women. The governments of the time really listened.  I visited with an old friend in Ottawa this summer whom I met in my early days of ECE.  She had gone on to work for the Canadian Child Care Federation. We had a great time reminiscing.

What is needed for the future (wages, benefits, working conditions) to fulfill your professional role effectively? 

Wages, benefits and working conditions need to be acknowledged and supported with real, long-term financial commitment. I hope to see a lot more support for families in Universal, affordable child care.  In BC we’re definitely talking about it and we’re optimistic with our new government. While there is movement, there is still a ways to go.

What’s the most amazing story a child has told you?  

Oh my goodness! One story that stands out is when I was in a kindergarten class and my father passed away suddenly and I travelled back to Saskatchewan. The teacher had told them why I was away and upon my return one little guy, big eyed said “WOW baseball still went on”. The compassion was so genuine.

How do you get your friends or family to support the importance of ECE?

I can get into conversations about the ideas – not everyone has the same choices; child care is very expensive; life is very busy and it’s not as easy a choice as one might suggest.

I like to get into the history and the reality that wages come from parents fees. The “early years are so important” and the Government is not supporting them and it’s integral to our belief systems.  For example, it’s as is if it’s the Ministry of Education vs Ministry of Children and Families – we see this with full day Kindergarten and Junior Kindergarten being funded now by the Ministry’s.  There is a vast difference in requirements.

Who is youfavourite ECE role model of all times?

I have two. Martha Friendly. I liked what she said back in the 1980s and I’ve read a lot of her books. She’s a mover and a shaker.  My other favourite is Enid Elliot in BC – for similar reasons. I love hearing her speak.

I wouldn’t change ________ for all the $$ in the 649!

My career.   It’s been fun.  I’d sort of like to get a bit of the 649 too!!!

What’s the best experience you’ve ever had as an ECE?

When I was in Ottawa, I worked with teen parents and their children. The Youville Center was based on a similar program for teen parents in Toronto (these were the first in Canada). We offered a communal residency, child care and Secondary schooling for the young mom’s as well as budgeting, nutrition and other life skills. The center was housed in an old school that was renovated.

I then went on to work at a child care program within a High School and a young mom who was graduating asked me to sign her t-shirt. This was a pretty special moment.

I really enjoyed those years, believing in them, the “whole person” concepts. Strong Start is modelling some of this in the parenting area.

What’s your best tip or trick that you’ve used over the years—that new people wouldn’t know about?

Humour – goofing around with little kids and having fun is a tactic and can be super helpful in bringing children out of “being stuck” with a change of focus—especially for one and two year olds.

What’s your absolute favourite resource that you “keep in your back pocket”? 

Nothing beats bubbles! Giant bubbles are spectacular.  The past couple of years I’ve gravitated towards felt stories. These are versatile for the children attending Strong Start (6 mos – 5 years) and I LOVE reading stories—felt stories are interactive and can easily be changed up. Children love the repetition and engagement.

What do you wish more Canadians knew about being an ECE?

The value of it – the importance and knowledge that is required.

Two significant changes have occurred in our school district, because of a few of our colleagues understanding the value of collaboration at a broader level.  Our colleagues have brought us together – ECE’s with teachers – involved in primary projects. It increases awareness because we have very different training. Now the inservices include the Strong Start people and within the day we’ll have a mix with: ECE, Kindergarten and Grade 1,2  teacher’s sharing as equals.

I have noticed that there has been a change – a difference in perception of us.

Another change was last September, our school initiated a pilot project where an ECE was assisting in the Kindergarten class (not an Educational Assistant) for the first month to help with the transition of children going into Kindergarten. What I’m seeing is that “it’s” being talked about and the significance of our role is starting to be valued more.

Where is your favourite place to go & be with the kids?

I have two: Our own gym time! That is a lot of fun.

We’ve also partnered with another program and have a great time when we go up to the Library and run “Mother Goose”.  The parents are more attentive and there is a specific focus – they are purposely coming for singing time.

What’s the best up close and personal encounter you’ve had with politicians or diplomats?

Years ago with a Reform Party  MP. We went to Parliament Hill and got 10 minutes with various politicians. We were in pairs. MP Deborah Grey didn’t believe in the necessity of child care.  At the time the lobbying was specific “helicopters vs child care” – this was approximately in the late 1980s. It was all very respectful and natural – it was great!

You’re talking with someone who is interested in becoming an ECE. No one is listening. What do you say?

During my recent trip to Ottawa, I had the occasion to speak with my friends daughter who is taking here ECE right now. She is a swimming instructor and saw a job posting with a good wage for an ECE position at Ottawa, Carlton and that got her thinking about it. I let her know what wages are like in BC and to consider wages, benefits and working conditions.  What was really cool about this…it’s where her mom and I started out!

When the work gets to you, where do you go to recharge?

Listening to live music – it reboots my soul.  This is my pastime here.

Money or genuine appreciation?

Both would be nice!  Parents do express their appreciation. Strong Start is just as important for parents as it is for young children. There’s a lot of networking and it’s very good for communication and community!

You’ve just won a huge jackpot of 50 million and you have 24 hours to spend it in the ECE profession. What do you do?

WOW! Give all the centres a big chunk of money. Parents wouldn’t have to forfeit good food.

We’d somehow spread it…and they’d also pay their teachers more money. ECE’s and families would benefit.

Finally, what does “it takes a village to raise a child” mean to you personally?

I have this saying up in my classroom! Whether you are urban or rural it applies…it does take a village – people coming together and caring.

I am grateful that there is a community and we’re still small enough. I’ve been here for 25 years and when the daycare first opened I worked with infants and toddlers. Now, 25 years later, the “children” still say hi. They “know we’re in a community of caring” and we’re still watching, we know who your mom is, and there is a strong sense of belonging.