Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Connor Rally Schmidt Who Teaches in Beijing, China by Mike Prochaska
Connor Rally Schmidt is currently a primary teacher at Innova Academy in Beijing, China. Connor has also worked in Hong Kong and studied Early Childhood Education at the University of Hong Kong. Conner loves to start his day with music to wake up his children for learning. (Here’s his favorite song!) Read on to learn more about Connor…
Q. Tell us about Hong Kong!
"Hong Kong is a fabulous mixture of Eastern and Western culture. It is a metropolis with pockets of tradition and history as well as being surrounded by natural wonders."
Q. What was it like teaching in Hong Kong?
"Hong Kong is still very traditional when it comes to education. They idolize learning facts and knowledge over a more relaxed, inquiry-based environment. Heavy pressure is put on students even starting at age 3 to learn multiple languages, go to after-school classes and achieve certain standards. This tends to also put pressure on the teachers as parents have very high (and often misguided) expectations of what is developmentally appropriate for their child. However, the students who I have worked with, both local and international, bring a variety of fun, excitement and passion for learning."
Q. What do men bring to the classroom?
"I often approach this topic carefully because I often feel there is tendency to put me, as a male educator in early years, on a pedestal for just doing my job. I completely understand there is a lack of male educators, however, nothing truly makes me stand out just because I'm a man. Many would say I'm a positive role model for young boys. I would add that I'm the same for the young girls in my class. Men in early childhood are lucky, I've found from personal experience, because they can push the boundaries of traditional curriculum or class behavior with less consequences."
Q. Why is play important for children?
"Play is the child's work, as the late Mr. Rogers would say. Play is so important because it's engaging, meaningful and social for the young learner. If we think about early childhood education as teaching attitudes, skills and mindsets about life, then play gives them the best opportunity to master those in a variety of contexts."
Q. Is outdoor play important?
"Why should play be relegated to any specific area? Outside play often leads to opportunities for discovery and research about our natural world. Outside play leads to more risks taken and the freedom to get messy and explore."
Q. What is a favorite memory working with kids?
"One of my favorite moments as an educator was during an engagement on transportation and creativity. I challenged the students to create vehicles that could travel on multiple levels, for example how a plane can go on the ground and the air. At the time, I couldn’t think of any traditional/popular forms of transport that could travel both on water and land so I asked the students to draw and explain a form of transportation that could. One boy looked at me and laughed playfully, 'Oh that's easy,' he said. 'Me! People can carry others on their back while they swim and then walk on the land as well.' I was floored by his response since the way he put it was just so obvious! I love being amazed by my students' genius and creativity."
Q. What is your favorite book to read to the classroom?
"I love the author Carson Ellis and their fabulous illustrations. Du Ist Tak? is an incredible story in a made-up bug language. Another author I adore is Herve Tullet. His stories, like Mix It Up, teach concepts and involve the reader to interact with the physical book."
Q. What is your favorite activities to do with the kids?
"This question is too difficult to answer specifically. I really love to dance with my students. Often, we will put on some fun and uplifting music before a discussion to put us in a good mood and wake us up. Another thing I enjoy is just free play. It gives me the chance to explore the classroom environment with my students, catch up with them and of course, play alongside them."
Q. What’s your feeling on wrestling, or as some people call it, big body play?
"I allow my students to play with each other in the ways they have consented to. If a few children are wrestling on the ground and I can see they are engaging in cooperative play, then by all means, I let them roll around. If I can see that someone is touching/grabbing/rough-housing with another student and one of them is uncomfortable, I allow time for that student to speak up and solve the issue. If I can see they are unsure of how to proceed, I will step in and help them work through the situation."
Q. Anything inspiring to tell anyone thinking of going into this field?
"To anyone who is talented at working and playing with children but is worried about society's opinion of the job – 'Early childhood is easy,' 'Those who can't do, teach,' 'You could be making so much money,' etc. – I just want to say that early childhood education can be an incredibly intellectually demanding profession. I've found myself challenged to learn and grow in ways I couldn't imagine. This job is never boring."
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