Interview with Cheryl Tait
Name: Cheryl Tait
City of Residence: Laxgalts’ap, BC
Occupation: Nisga’a Supported Child Development Program
Sharing Knowledge – the key to Life Long Learning
How long have you been….an ECE?
I started my first year of college in 1985 in ECE. My three children were my “ECE Children.” Everything I learned I set the example for my husband and I to bring our children up with an ECE mentality—it helped to change my parenting style.
I had 2 in-home daycares, the first one was in Laxgalts’ap and the most recent one was in Prince Rupert. We moved there for one year when my youngest son was in high school. He wanted to play basketball and one of the school coaches’ incentives for travelling with the team was to keep up with his school work and then he could go on basketball trips. He loved basketball and he struggled with peer pressure however sports helped him stay on task. This was a technique my parents used on me so after convincing my husband we used this technique on our three children as a result, they are healthy and hard working adults.
What inspired you to become an ECE?
I wanted to work with children, to be a Teacher and Early Childhood Education training was a start. I learned about Child Development, knowledge that I needed to understand when working with families. I kept on with this path because it was rewarding and I recognized through life’s experience the importance of being a good role model when supporting families.
From this early ECE training, I became what I call an “ECE parent”, meaning that I understood that I needed to take this role as my children’s first teacher seriously. I experienced a lot of personal growth on this ECE journey and came to realize that my parents did their best to be good parents.
I also had teaching mentors who contributed to my inspiration to become an ECE – Eleanor Skelton & Larissa Tarwick from Northwest Community College- they’re retired now –and Darlene Westerman is now teaching at NWCC who is an important mentor as well, passing on knowledge in a meaningful way. My fellow students Liz Williams and Jennifer Sampson, who we’ve formed a bond that still supports us today.
What keeps you here?
It’s fulfilling, this is not only a position-it is a lifestyle. This work has taught me to be in balance – parenting my own children, supporting my adult children, and being attentive to my grandchildren.
Residential School has impacted my family immensely. My parents were taken from their parents and I’m aware that it will take at least seven generations to break many of these cycles of pain. My ECE education gave me a ‘book learning’ approach that made sense and so my children and their children benefited with my new found knowledge of me-who I was, who I am now and who I’d like to work hard at being- ‘A holistically healthy woman.’
I didn’t realize that all children had experienced different upbringings. I was sheltered, my parents were always there for me and my siblings and working hard to keep a roof over our heads and keeping us safe.
It was unfamiliar to me when I began learning about other childhood experiences – one story that was shared with me and has given me consent to tell his story. He would go out and pick berries to eat—sometimes that was his only food, and he’d stay out until he knew it was “safe” to go home. His parents drank at times and at times they weren’t always there for him and his six siblings. It was a very different upbringing than mine and I understood the reason for some of his teen/adult behaviors by using alcohol and drugs to numb painful childhood memories.
My husband and I started a family a couple of years after high school where we met as teenagers and this June 29th we celebrate 38 years of marriage. We “just knew” that we were meant to be together and choose to focus on the many happy memories of our past.
My aunty, Patricia Adams taught me that everything has a place and a time to happen– parents are chosen before we are born, so I chose my parents to be my mentors. My husband was chosen for me (before we were born) to be life partners. I strongly believe my aunty’s teachings that we are here to learn our lessons together – this is how it is and when our lessons are completed then we move on.
Settle the debate for us: Job or Profession?
Pay is an extra benefit for me because I just want to do what my purpose in life is to do, which is making a difference with children. Job and profession come hand in hand – I believe that I had to get my ECE certification before getting a good job. It is important to teach our children by role modeling how important education is and not just giving it lip service.
My parents emphasized the importance of getting a good education, so I’ve continued to work at it over the years, taking a course here and there. In May 2018, I am receiving my Bachelor of Arts degree in First Nations Studies, I believe it. This is my way of preparing to be an elder – learning about our language, culture and traditions. Attached is a sample poem called ‘Our Nisga’a Nation.’
‘Our Nisga’a Nation’
People who encourage ‘Sayt K’iĺim Goot’,
Approachable and Attentive,
Do ‘Walk Their Talk’ to promote clarity,
Resolving conflicts, speculation, and injustice,
A Nation that honors Nisga’a Laws:
They tell us what is written and we want to believe in progress, for we have seen other
Nation’s struggles and shortcomings,
And they tell us we are unique and we answer; Yes, it is true,
we have communities living in poverty and generations of Residential School issues.
And they tell us we are self-governed but have we really parted from the Department Of Indian Affairs
Policies and European Governance?
We reply; On the faces of our Nation’s men, women and children we see confusion,
Nisga’a People are Non Status.
Having answered so we turn once more to those who sneer at our Nation, and we say to them;
Come and show the Nisga’a how your Nation has decided to follow our lead,
Many Nations encourage people to be educated, to have healthy families rejoicing to be alive.
Culture and traditional beliefs are key, when it comes to keeping the focus while facing life’s challenges.
Grass roots and leaders alike work hard on their personal growth, breaking cycles of despair past down,
from one generation forward,
Sayt Kiĺim Goot,
One heart, one path, one Nation.
Under the microscope, living in fish bowls, we are accountable for our every turn,
Understanding that we need to take one step at a time, one day at a time,
Laughing at our setbacks and jumping for joy at our triumphs, using fear as an opportunity to be
Announcing to the world what it means to be Nisga’a, how we support one another in time of need,
from the lowest to the highest income, we are the wealthiest of people with or without money.
Land and Resources, Health and Education, Social and Economics, Tourism and Nisga’a Museum,
Language and Culture are our major assets, to cherish and hold onto as our
Forefathers did before us, our home, our land, our Nation.
Based on Chicago Poem by: Carl Sanders
Revisions by : Cheryl Tait
What does professionalism look like in the child care sector today?
It’s very effective and welcoming especially at a conference like this one, the ECEBC 2017. For example the teachers and participants are eager to teach and share.
The common message is “what can better their teaching ability” and connecting with other professionals. I feel that we are well respected and we are all here to broaden our skills and understanding. The artwork, the venue, the booths—they’re all about sharing what’s available for children’s learning styles.
Professionalism is about sharing knowledge – and in this ECEfield, everyone is approachable.
What is needed for the future (wages, benefits, and working conditions) to fulfill your professional role effectively?
The Government needs to be on board and invest in the idea of giving us the wages we deserve for the work that we do ‘teaching’ we need to know which party is supporting us and get the word out to vote for the party with our best interest in mind. For example, the $10 / day campaign is getting the message out – neighbours, communities, leaders must be educated about ECE and that it’s not “just babysitting” it is early learning and intervention.
What’s the most amazing story a child has told you?
It’s not so much a story but observations that tell the story.
My oldest granddaughter she likes shopping and giving her own opinion of whatever we are talking about. Usually, she argues her point to the end which makes me believe that someday she’ll be a lawyer. Her brother is a thinker and someday he wants to be an inventor.
My second granddaughter likes Karaoke singing and her favorite singer is Adele –her expression, being so in the moment – this is her thing – she’s a natural at it and in time her voice will improve along with her confidence. We have high hopes that someday she’ll continue to be famous in her own way. Her little brother is very emotional and likes to hug when he doesn’t see you for a while, he’ll let you know he misses you.
My youngest granddaughter, she loves to hold things. She connects with items, with stones – depending on her mood, so for example she goes for the pink stone when she’s angry, an early teaching I taught her – she goes for this stone and holds it and she says it makes her feel better. Her brother is growing up so fast and demands attention- he loves to get tickled and play wrestle.
They are learning about themselves, their talents and skills and how to cope and it’s amazing how they catch on. Parents don’t always realize when their kids are fidgeting, the child might need something to help them…like a rock or a spinner—it’s developing tools.
I have to keep up with the times and know how to continue learning from my grandchildren and other ECE mentors and professionals so I can continue to help children develop.
How do you get your friends or family to support the importance of ECE?
When a child has trouble with sounds or speech for example, I help parents to understand that a referral to a speech and language therapist is to help the child sound out words and I tell stories about what I’ve learned over the years. So, I give some personal information of my struggles in school and let them make the decision to reach out for supports as well. This helps create an openness to the idea of accepting support and early intervention.
I’ve also learned from training workshops that to teach us that ‘each child’ is unique and while there are “typical” child development patterns, each child develops in their own way, and we can support them where they are at. I help prepare parents to learn how to access and receive support from others – that it’s safe and ok to do that.
It’s like going to the dentist or to get an eye examination, this type of example helps reduce anxiety and framing it like a “check up to ensure all parts of them are functioning well.”
Who is your favourite ECE role model of all times?
My mom – unknowingly – she has many self-taught degrees, she is my first Teacher, I was in her womb for 9 months learning from her before I was born; she has always been there for me and has always taken the time to teach.
I wouldn’t change ________ for all the $$ in the 649!
I wouldn’t change any relationship with the children for any amount of money. They all mean so much to me – they teach me and me them! They are little grannys and grandpas—the ancestors have come back.
What’s the best experience you’ve ever had as an ECE?
Every graduation! From the Nursery to Kindergarten to High School Grads – they are transitioning, getting older and I’m so glad I’ve been part of that process. A lot of children have passed through our program, they are now adults, having children of their own and now I’m working with those children.
What’s your best tip or trick that you’ve used over the years—that new people wouldn’t know about?
Distraction! The use of distraction is particularly helpful with transitioning. It’s in the timing – knowing when to use it – before a “meltdown” for any age group.
What’s your absolute favourite resource that you “keep in your back pocket”?
Social stories – for example taking pictures of the process of brushing teeth from beginning to end – the pics tell their story. They love having pictures taken of themselves and seeing pictures of themselves or their friends.
Taking pics of going on a trip – again, from beginning to end – so there are no surprises and the children knows what to expect- to get to where they need to be, with the least amount of anxiety- such as going to the Dentist.
What do you wish more Canadians knew about being an ECE?
I wish they knew the importance about knowing more about child development. Once people are aware, it changes from unrealistically high expectations to expectations that children can succeed at and continue to flourish. We see it a lot with learning disabilities – it’s a step by step process, hand over hand – nurturing and encouraging. It works to have more knowledge.
Where is your favourite place to go & be with the kids?
Staying connected to the land. Historic scenes like our local Vetter Falls – a lake and picnic/camping with young families. Helping them to understand about fire safety, environmental awareness. Our people don’t seem to get out on the land as much as they’d like and this is so important. So many people are in such a hurry to get from point A to B. Slowing down and stopping to “smell the flowers” shows appreciation for the beautiful scenery.
Many of “our families” don’t have vehicles. We have program vehicles and arrange trips to get back out onto the land – it’s part of our culture and our tradition to pass our stories to the next generation.
Elders are there and they translate the process, teach culture and traditions enhancing the children and their families understanding.
What’s the best up close and personal encounter you’ve had with politicians or diplomats?
When I was on a Health Board of Directors; they promote, and assist in the process of making healthier choices that lead to healthy minds, healthy bodies, and healthy spirits. I was there for the ‘Voice’ of the People and Policies/Procedures are key for the organization.
Most of the politicians are very aware of what is really needed to benefit the children and their families’ well – being. The people can see progress when there’s a ‘team approach’ with all the resources presenting many positive choices in the environment in which we live in.
You’re talking with someone who is interested in becoming an ECE. No one is listening. What do you say?
I’d let future ECE students know how I got started and who mentored me into this field. I’d also mention that people who choose a career in ECE, usually do it because ‘they love what they do’ regardless of how much money they are making. Many times, I would second guess my choices because of disagreements but I’d quickly refocus on the children who are depending on me to be there, to keep the consistency in their routines-the children are the reason I stay involved.
When the work gets to you, where do you go to recharge?
I use my tools to help me to get back on the right track. I’ve done so much self-growth over the years and I’ve learned many techniques to continue my journey on a positive path. I surround myself with my supportive network and take the time to heal with prayer and forgiveness.
Money or genuine appreciation?
You’ve just won a huge jackpot of 50 million and you have 24 hours to spend it in the ECE profession. What do you do?
I’d look at Capital Projects – rebuild – accommodate community needs – create family wellness centers for families and ensuring there is enough support in every First Nations community.
Free education for anyone who wants to go back to school with the option to change their mind mid-way through, to explore a more passionate career choice.
Fully furnished housing, to deal with overcrowded homes in First Nations communities.
For young people – teens and young parents to have a shelter for whatever immediate supports they may need, any time of the day without prejudice or lateral violence.
The safety and wellbeing of Indigenous women and girls is vital to ensuring healthy and prosperous Indigenous families, communities and nations.
User friendly job policies at the decision making level, to accommodate every front line worker’s effort to support families the way that they suggest and know best.
Numerous vehicles/office space and bottomless pot of money, for every family outreach workers to do their jobs so there is a continuous cycle of supports for families in need in every First Nations community.
Enough nourishing food free to families in need and whenever in need.
Speech and language and other specialist programs – open clinics without waiting lists to assist schools and giving parents the tools to optimizing “teachable moments” at home.
Surrounding First Nations people with conflict resolution/strategic planning educational supports to strengthen culture, meaning, hope, belonging and purpose among women, men, children, and families in communities.
Communities are best able to coordinate, support and mobilize the appropriate people –
including leadership, frontline workers, volunteers, families, youth, service providers and external supports –to create elder mentorship opportunities and safer homes in their environments.
Finally, what does “it takes a village to raise a child” mean to you personally?
A child has the best ability to become a healthy adult if the entire community takes an active role in contributing to the rearing of the child. We’re all related through marriage or clan systems – everyone is responsible for the concern of one’s safety. Trusting one another to help each other out when we’ve ‘hit bottom’, is fearful, however it gives us an opportunity to be courageous in times of need. Sayt-K’iĺim Goot ‘One heart – One path – One Nation’
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