The child care sector is characterised by people dedicated to creating exciting, nurturing and innovative learning environments for Australiaís youngest learners. Sene Gide definitely fits into this box.

Sene arrived in Sydney with little or no English, with the support of her family and teachers she qualified as a child care worker and is now the Director of a pioneering centre which prides itself on its diverse multicultural staff team.

As a Muslim woman with strong ideas about how early childhood education can improve community values, Sene's story makes for inspirational reading.

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Interview with Sene Gide - Director Boundary Lane Childrenís Centre (University of Sydney)

C4K: What is your full name and age?

SG: My name is Sene Gide, there are a couple of different pronunciations of my name, the children call me Sena which I like.

C4K: Which centre do you work in?

SG: I have been working at Boundary Lane Childrenís Centre at the University of Sydney since 2005.

C4K: How many staff and children are in the centre?

SG: The centre is licensed for 56 children per day, 20 children for the 0-2 age group and 36 children for the 2-5 age groups. However, we enroll a maximum of 16 children in the nursery as we believe a ratio of 1:4 is better than 1:5.

Currently we have 17 staff in our team; 10 full time staff including one Director, two ECT, five trained CCW, one untrained CCW and 1 Cook and seven part time staff including one trained CCW, three Cert III CCW, two untrained CCW and one Admin Assistant.

C4K: What is your professional background and career experience?

SG: It is a long story... I came to Australia 15 years ago with no English at all. For the first couple of years I did some English courses at TAFE. Then I completed Certificate III and Diploma in Childrenís Services at Petersham TAFE.

My husband and TAFE teachers encouraged me to continue my study at university level so I started working at Lady Gowrie in the nursery room and enrolled at Macquarie University for a Bachelor of Education. Juggling work, external study and a family with two young children (six years and four years at that time) was not easy.

However, I successfully completed my first year at Macquarie then transferred to the University of Western Sydney for face-to-face mostly evening classes so I could work during the day. I would take my two children to classes with me after school because we had no extended family to help us.

I completed my degree at the end of 2002 and moved to Lucas St Child Care (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) as a teacher. I gave birth to my third child 10 days after my graduation and enrolled in a Master of Education course while I was on maternity leave. However, for various reasons, I had to go back to work earlier than I planned as an Acting Director and worked there for another year.

I completed my Masterís degree at the end of 2004 and in 2005 started at Boundary Lane Childrenís Centre as a Director. The first director at this centre worked here for 17 years and then retired - my target is to break her record.

C4K: What attracted you to a career in child care?

SG: I always wanted to become a teacher when I was young. Due to my motherís health problems I had to look after the family and couldnít continue my study. Later, I got married and came to Australia. My husband enrolled me in language courses shortly after our arrival to Australia. One of these courses called Work Opportunities for Women was useful. The teachers sent us to different work places according to our interests and dreams.

My work place was a child care centre in Lakemba. I really enjoyed it, and I realised that children donít care too much about the way you look or talk as long as you give them attention and spend time with them. That was very important for me because as a Muslim woman who wears hijab, and who spoke very little English I used to think everyone was looking at me and criticising me.

This experience gave me the courage to study Cert III so I could work with children. Then I realised as an educator how important we are in young childrenís lives, how rewarding it is to watch children take their first steps, to give meaning to their first words, to watch them grow from 'little babies' who just started at your centre, to big, independent, 'grown up children' who leave the centre to start big school.

I also enjoy the informal relationship we have with our children, families and colleagues. In the child care field we donít call each other Miss or Mrs So and So as they do in big schools.

I also realised there is a stereotyping of people from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB) and Muslim women. Most of the NESB women I have met in the early childhood field were working in the lowest positions.

Someone should take the first steps to change that. Thatís why I have worked and am still working hard to prove we are a valuable part of Australian society. Now I have many migrant friends especially women who study further to get a career. What I like most about working in early childhood field is that we work with people from different backgrounds and learn a lot from each other.

C4K: What does a 'normal' day look like for you?

SG: There is no such thing as a normal day in child care. Every day brings its challenges. As expected, paper work is part of the roles and responsibilities of the director. However, for me, children and staff come first. First thing in the morning, I make sure that everything is fine in the rooms.

Then daily duties such as scheduled meetings, guiding parents through the centre, phone calls, rostering and ordering weekly needs fill the day.

I like fixing things - if there is a cupboard door or a table leg, or a toy that needs to be fixed, thatís definitely my job. If our Cook has a day off, I may end up in the kitchen cooking spaghetti bolognese or cheese pasta. Regular meetings such as staff meetings, Consultative Committee meetings and Board meetings are part of the job.

I like to be active in the community; therefore, I am a representative on DOCs Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Group in Childrenís Services Forum. I am also a member of the Sydney University Child Care Coordinating Committee and the Directors Networking Group and I attend their regular meetings.

C4K: What makes your centre unique?

SG: What makes Boundary Lane Children Centre unique is Ďthe staff teamí. We have a very diverse, multicultural and dedicated team. We speak eight different languages other than English and represent eight different cultures. The Boundary Lane Team always puts children first and works in a very professional manner in a supportive environment.

We are also famous for our healthy and tasty menu. We have some parents come to the centre and ask ĎI have heard there is a centre which provides delicious food - is that you?í More often than not, before we answer, they smell whatever is cooking and get their answer and put their children on the waiting list!

Our menu is a very successful project which I am very proud of. At Boundary Lane we provide Halal food. A couple of years ago, due to some Muslim staff including myself and some Jewish and Muslim children, we tried Halal food; after some consultation and discussion we decided to provide a Halal menu.

Firstly, it is more inclusive. I encourage Teachers to sit down and eat with children in small groups. This provides an opportunity for children to talk to their teachers and for the teachers to be role models for young children. So instead of cooking Halal and non Halal separately, we cook one meal.

The children are so used to the taste of the Boundary Lane food that if the cook is away and we get a casual cook from an agency, most of the food ends up in the bin! Thatís why one of our dedicated staff members will go into the kitchen and the casual staff will work in the room.

Secondly, it is more practical. Instead of cooking two different dishes, we cook one main meal. We also provide special health reason diets and vegetarian diets.

The lower fees we charge and the highest quality care we provide also make us unique. Boundary Lane Child Care is a non-profit community based child care centre with a philosophy of providing the best, highest quality care for young children at an affordable price.

C4K: What are some of the advantages of working in the child care sector?

SG: For me doing something I enjoy as a profession, having an interesting and challenging day each day and learning something new from each child, family and colleague I work with is very satisfying. To be able to work with all those beautiful and colourful cultures and communities, to learn from each other, and to appreciate each othersí differences are among the main advantages of working in the child care field.

During my years of working as untrained, then trained child care worker, teacher and director, each day and each role has brought different experiences. I believe that those experiences made me who I am today.

C4K: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the child care sector??

SG: The biggest challenge we face is, without any argument, attracting and retaining quality staff. Due to better working conditions, longer holidays, shorter working hours and better pay, most of the Ďgood teachersí move to schools or preschools. Retaining good educators in a long day care centre is really difficult.

In my opinion, the other challenge we have is the perception society has about child care centres and educators. There are still some people who see long day care centres as play group and our educators as babysitters. It is very upsetting.

C4K: How has your centre changed to deal with these challenges?

SG: In terms of staff turn over, our centre is pretty stable. There are some unwritten rules about supporting each other in the team environment. The friendly working environment makes educators stay in our workplace longer and the children benefit from the continuity of care we offer.

I personally believe that to change the communityís perception, we educators should first change our perception of our profession. We are educators and we have a big role in young childrenís life. Therefore, we should keep our knowledge up-to-date at all times. We should study more, not just to move to different fields but to use the gained knowledge in the early childhood field.

We also should value the life experiences of each staff. It is sad to see that some centers do not involve untrained child care workers in programming. At Boundary Lane all educators regardless of their education, language or cultural background, share responsibilities of planning, programming, and routine.

We encourage staff to take further study for their professional development. I am one example that shows working and studying plus having a family can be done with determination. We also currently have two educators studying the Bachelor of Education. With more study and knowledge, educators will feel more confident.

C4K: How does the industry need to change to adapt to these challenges?

SG: I think it should start from the top. The Government should have some strong policies about equal payments and improving working conditions for all teachers. Two educators who graduate from the same school with the same degree get different salary and work conditions. This is not fair.

C4K: What advice would you offer someone thinking about a career or looking for a promotion in child care?

SG: The early childhood sector is a very emotionally satisfying field if you are committed to it and do your job professionally. A parent leaves their most precious, most valuable thing, their child in your hands. That requires a huge trust. You take that precious child and look after him/her all day, and in some cases you spend more active time with the child than their parents do.

You see their first steps, you hear their first word (however, as a policy we do not say anything to parents about the Ďfirstsí until they see these themselves).

For promotion we always need trained teachers, and there are many opportunities for young child care workers to study part-time or externally while working in a centre.

My advice to all educators, regardless of their educational level, is to acknowledge the fact that we have a very big responsibility and role in childrenís lives. If we carry this responsibility professionally, there will be great satisfaction.

Letís teach children that appreciating differences, respecting individuals, sharing with others and caring about each other will make living together in a community much easier and a lot more fun. We, as educators, are shaping the future. Letís do a great job of it.
 
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