“Hey! I just noticed I’m getting an F in your class. What can you do for me?”

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Ok, so those of us who instruct teachers-in-training can identify with emails starting out with, “Hey!,” students arriving late for class, texting while you’re talking, having little regard for anyone but themselves, and no idea what is appropriate to wear in public. These students will someday represent your college or training agency as they go out into workplace.

They will also represent the Early Childhood profession.

There is no time to waste in making the paradigm shift from problematic to professional. But, can it possibly be done? Can we equip these free-range students with the critical “soft skills” they’ll need to get and keep a position in Early Childhood?

Yes, indeed we can.

At a meeting last semester of our Early Childhood faculty, we again lamented the relative unprofessionalism of our students, which paralleled with what employers in the community were seeing. We decided enough was enough. Something needed to be done, if not by the entire college, at least by our program.

We made a list of Professionalism Skills our students (or any students!) should have in order to be employable, responsible, and successful:

· Dependability

· Workplace ethics

· Time management

· Good attendance

· Teamwork

· Effective oral and written communication

· Integrity

· Initiative

We had no trouble recalling student issues related to each and every item on the list. We were doing our students no favors by ignoring these important factors that would preclude them from being hired, retained, or eventually promoted. By persisting without correction, they were essentially standing in their own way.

It was decided that specific Professionalism Skills requirements and assignments would be embedded in every one of our Early Childhood courses. We started with student emails. Unless the email began with a proper and respectful salutation and ended with the sender’s name, it would not receive a response. We also began giving more weight to spelling, grammar, and usage in written assignments.

Punctuality, attendance, and on-time submission of assignments were next. These were linked to points earned. We then created “dress for success” assignments. One day, students came to class dressed appropriately for an interview. On another, they dressed as though going to work in a child care program. Part of these assignments involved a brief explanation about the importance of making a good impression at an interview, what attire should be worn when working with young children, and why the outfits they chose would meet these criteria.

Students who were required to spend time observing or working as a guest or practicum student in a child care program needed to send a handwritten Thank You card afterwards. This type of common courtesy and appreciation was a new concept for some! It was, at first, met with groans, but later, a good many students said they actually enjoyed choosing the cards and writing them. They also liked the warm responses from the surprised recipients!

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Next, we partnered with the college career center, so students could create a proper resume and have it reviewed. The career center also provided online mock interviews that were recorded for the students, so they could see themselves, note strengths and issues, and re-do, if needed.

All of these assignments were associated with points and were adapted for our online students, as well. We didn’t want to leave anyone out!

As we near the end of the first round of this grand experiment, we have all been generally pleased with the outcomes. Yes, there will be requirements and assignments to tweak for next semester, but some changes in our students are already clearly apparent.

There is no more, “Hey!” at the start of an unsigned email and more self-respect, respect towards others, and personal responsibility. There have been fewer leggings and revealing tops in class, more on-time students and assignments, and pride taken in work submitted.

It’s a start. I think these changes absolutely align with NAEYC’s focus this year on the “Power of the Profession”… as we empower and support teachers-in-training to develop the skills needed to set them apart as Early Childhood professionals. One can only wonder how much of an impact would be made if this became a trend across the country.

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