In a profession that is dominated by a female presence, gender roles and biases are not at the forefront of Matt McKenzie’s mind. A resident of Seattle, youth sports coach, and teacher at the Phinney Ridge Lutheran Child Development Center (PRLCDC), McKenzie is more focused on creating a community of equals in his classroom of 3 to 4 year olds.
“In my classroom, there are up to 20 kids on any given day. I also have two assistant teachers, so I am just one twenty third of my classroom community. I think teachers go wrong when they have a personal agenda and start looking at themselves as more than one part of the picture. I always view myself and the children as equal parts of the class. I know I’m going to mistakes like everyone does. I admit to them and expect the same from anyone else.” says McKenzie, a 26 year old native of the South Seattle Seward Park neighborhood.
This philosophy of equality has worked well for Matt in his early childhood career as he has ventured up the ladder of promotion and had many successes with his students. He started out as a volunteer for Child Haven when he was a senior in high school, worked at the early childhood center at his college, then was hired at PRLCDC as a part time float staff. He then became an assistant teacher in one of the center’s smaller classrooms. Through his remarkable ability to form bonds with all the children at the center and his innovative classroom management skills, he was promoted in September to the lead teacher position in the school’s largest classroom. McKenzie now works with two assistants to provide a full time curriculum to the three and four year old “Orange Room” class, and he couldn’t be happier. When asked what keeps him grounded in a field that runs the risk of having a high turn around, Matt replies without hesitation “The kids. I just love the kids. I am constantly blown away by what they are capable of. I have tunnel vision when it comes to them. I can deal with bad days as long as I know I’m going to get to spend time with these kids that I’ve watched grow and develop over time.” And he has made a point to invest in the growth and development of every child that comes through his classroom. In addition to making a concerted effort to have meaningful interaction with every student every day, Matt makes a point to visit the classrooms of younger children in the center on a regular basis so that he may begin to know his future students and they may begin to know their future teacher. A teacher who, while showing them just how fun and goofy an adult can be, will also help them help themselves.
When the issues of discipline and philosophy are brought up, Matt expresses that the play based philosophy that he celebrates also supports his priorities with discipline.
“I have observed that, with play based learning, kids learn from each other in a better way than they learn from us. I believe in social development over academic development for this age and this emphasis gives them the tools for social awareness that they will need in order to know what resources are available to them for problem solving.” In addition to adhering to a methodology that allows children to explore their means of interaction in a safe environment, Matt also adheres to a simple rule of discipline: keep it consistent. “I decide early on what battles I’m going to pick and I keep those battles enforceable.” This, according to Matt, takes the guess work out of the day for the children. “When you are inconsistent with your expectations, it’s stressful for you and the kids.” This commitment to enforceable expectations leads to the comfort in structure that kids crave. Matt thrives on being structured over being strict. “The days fly by when they’re running smooth and we don’t have to be police officers. I seek to help the kids take responsibility then slowly back out of their interactions and take part only when needed.”
Matt seeks to have many more days that fly by in his future as an early childhood educator as he is currently working on acquiring an ECE degree from North Seattle Community College, studying under the well known Tom Drummond prior to his recent retirement. Matt has some very passionate and poignant feelings about the future of this career field, and feels that the inevitable direction this profession is going in should, and will, raise the bar for everyone. “There is a need for an emphasis on educating the educators. I was shocked when I found out how little there is as far as resources for early childhood educators who want to continue to grow in their field. It’s so overlooked and that seems ridiculous because almost everyone goes to preschool.” Matt believes that creating better training programs for educators or potential educators will produce better teachers for our young children and thus get childcare centers and preschools the respect that they deserve. It has been far too long that early childhood educators have taken a side car to primary education.
What does the future hold for Matt? “I just love what I do. At the end of the day, I’m always tired, but I’m always happy. I’ve recently become interested in theory and research and I’m feeling very compelled to write about my experiences.” With any luck, Matt McKenzie will be able to be a part of the changes to the profession that he seeks as he will continue to build this community environment for young children for a long time.
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