Child care educator in the spotlight Susan Dunphy
Child care educator in the spotlight Susan Dunphy
This week meet Susan Dunphy who has worked at the Lady Ramsay Early Learning and Education Centre at the Royal Brisbane Hospital for 22 years.
What is your full name?
My name is Susan Dunphy, the children call me Miss Susan, my colleagues call me Suz and occasionally I answer to Sharon, Sandy or Sam; particularly when families are new or at the beginning of the year as the children are transitioning.
Which service do you work in? How many staff and children are in your service?
I have been working at Lady Ramsay Early Learning and Education Centre at the Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital for 22 years. It is a work based long day care centre for children whose parents work for QLD Health, and caters for 78 children per day aged between 6 weeks to 5 years. We have extended operational hours from 6am until 7pm.
22 staff work at the centre, we have a 4 week rotating roster and we start and finish at different times each day. The centre recently achieved an accreditation rating of "Exceeding current national quality standards". We provide additional services which include:
- Queensland Government Approved Kindergarten Program
- Collaborative Learning Class
- Art Program
- Music Program
What is your professional background and career experience?
I gained my nursing training at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. However my heart was not in it. I wanted more; I wanted to enjoy my working day. I became a nurse in child care, in those days every child care centre had a nurse and we were employed in the nurseries. I loved working with the babies, I would sing, play, paint and enjoyed interacting and caring for them.
I studied part time and externally to gain my Diploma and then a Bachelor in Early Childhood. When our Director went on maternity leave, I was appointed assistant director and I went into the office, which became an extended period of time as she never did return.
While I was capable and efficient in this role the position lacked the joy and job satisfaction I experienced while working with the children. When the position for Director was finally advertised I did not apply and I returned to the nursery. After many years of working in the nursery, I decided I needed a change and I moved to the toddler rooms and I now work in the Kindy room.
What attracted you to a career in the early childhood sector?
I was searching for an occupation where I could enjoy my day. I wanted my life to have purpose and be meaningful while still having fun.
What does a 'normal' day look like for you?
I start off my day with a cup of coffee, meditating and going for a walk. When I arrive at work, I may help with breakfast, set up the yard and join in activities with the children. I greet parents and help children settle into the day.
We take the Kindergarten children in about 8:30am, we call the roll, have a music session followed by story time and then get into writing the daily program with the children. We transition to morning tea and set up the teacher initiated experiences and the experiences that the children suggested.
Currently we have a Chemistry Lab set up in the Kindergarten class as an extension on the children's interest in colour mixing. Each week we do a new experiment such as ‘Liquid Density' in which we layer up liquids (in a glass) which settle in layers (honey, syrup, a variety of coloured water, oil, and milk) we make predictions and observe what happens. The children move around our room participating in various activities. I may join in or observe, take observations, assist with any problems, make suggestions and scaffold learning. The morning session runs until 11:15am and then pack-up. At some time I will have morning tea, it is worked out according to the time I started and I start at a different time each day.
At 11:30am we have a group session where we have another story time and reflect on the program with the children, we then transition to outside play before lunch at 12:20pm.
After lunch some of the children sleep and some rest, I read them a bed time story or part of a chapter book or we listen to relaxing stories/music. After resting some of the children get up to do quiet activities at the table. I print some photos for the day sheet to keep our parents informed of the children's day and I may write a learning story or observations for the children's portfolios. I have lunch.
At 2:30pm, we pack up our bed, the children put on shoes and we have another group time where I may read a book, the children have an opportunity to present an item/piece of their artwork or a numeracy experience might be organised etc. We transition to afternoon tea, eat, clean up and go outside by 4:00pm. I may have gone home before this or I may stay and supervise an activity outside until we pack up around 5:00pm and have a late snack. 5:30 is my latest shift, I drive home pick up my son and daughter, cook dinner and relax with my family.
What makes your service unique?
We focus on staff strengths; I love to paint, draw and do anything artistic. I have been able to include my interests within my teaching role by taking on the responsibility of the Art Play Program that I teach on a Thursday in the Toddler, Pre-kindy and Kindy room. This is my favourite day of the week. I am given time to plan and prep for the experiences. I spend time with children of different ages and can plan skill development and creative expression over a number of years.
Claire teaches the Music program on a Tuesday and the children look forward to the variety provided. Janine takes the Collaborative Learning Class Tuesday to Friday, where 7 children work/play together in the smaller group focusing on collaboration.
Shannon is our event co-ordinator, at the beginning of the year she plans the calendar of events that includes various community and family functions which she then prepares and organises as the events arise throughout the year. "Cheeky Monkey Club" is an educational music and movement incursion program that visits the Centre twice a month to give teachers hands on music and movement ideas and inspiration.
Amanda heads our sustainability program that includes the worm farm and compost which the children help care for using the fruit and vegetable scraps from the day, the worms produce worm castings that we sell to our hospital community. This is just a taste of what makes us SPECIAL; all of our staff have their own unique skills and talents and are utilised within our centre and program.
What are some of the advantages of working in early childhood education and care?
Job satisfaction is the greatest advantage of working in early childhood education. We are touching hearts and shaping minds.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the sector?
Working in the early childhood education sector is not recognised as a "real profession". People in "real professions" are paid for their education/knowledge and experience. People working in the early childhood education have big hearts and are giving and kind. Unfortunately, these wonderful qualities are being taken advantage of and this is evident in our award wages.
Before I started working at Lady Ramsay, I was employed as a nurse in child care, which was a lower rate of pay than a nurse in the hospital system. I had bought the cheapest house in Brisbane with my partner at the time and then we separated. I wanted to keep my home, but couldn't afford it on the salary I was making. I could no longer afford to work in child care.
I started looking for employment that paid better. I saw an opening in a new child care centre being built at the Royal Women's hospital and I negotiated to be employed as a state award registered nurse. I believe everyone who works in the early childhood education sector deserves a much higher rate of pay. I believe everyone in our industry should join the union; we need people with a different wonderful skill set to negotiate and support the progression in recognising the very important job we do every day.
How has your service changed to deal with these challenges?
At Lady Ramsay we fit into the hospital pay structure and we have different award wages, which are higher than the early childhood sector. The staff at Lady Ramsay stay in the industry because here we have very good working conditions. When Pat recently retired she was 74 years old and another staff member turns 65 this year. Most of our staff are over the age of 30 and with this accumulation of knowledge and experience we provide an excellent service in which we feel valued. I wish this applied to all those working in the industry.
How does the early childhood industry need to change to adapt to these challenges?
Some child care centres only employ young people either because they are cheaper to employ or they are the only people that have applied for the position and some only employ people on a casual basis. Many dedicated and hard-working people leave the industry because they don't have job security and they are under paid. This has resulted in an industry that lacks the accumulated knowledge and experience gained over many years.
Wisdom comes with age, it is passed down from one generation to the next, but the younger generation in our industry are missing out. But ultimately it is the children in early childhood setting that miss out on the richness that comes with experience. I was lucky because I found a workplace that recognised my skills and education and paid me accordingly which enabled me to meet my financial responsibilities otherwise unfortunately I would have had to leave the industry as well.
What advice would you offer someone thinking about a career or looking for a promotion in early childhood education and care?
Sometimes it's hard to find a balance between doing what makes you happy and being financially responsible. Never be afraid to ask for what you need. You are amazing!
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Thursday, 22 October 2020
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