Interview with staff members of Murska Sobota Preschool conducted by Aljosa Rudas in Slovenian. English transcript below.
Aljosa: The Preschool of Murska Sobota is a Public Preschool in the northeast part of Slovenia that, through its mission, aims to provide children an encouraging environment in which children can build understanding and quality relationships with their peers and adults through activities and interactions.
The Preschool encourages creativity, sociability, and relaxation. Education is based on relevant life values, like responsibility, critical thinking, tolerance, equality, safety, peace, solidarity, health, and knowledge. In line with national recommendations for preschool education in Slovenia and based on the national Curriculum Public Preschool Murska Sobota provides the program to 687 children in 45 classrooms and 8 preschool units around the City of Murska Sobota. The implementation of quality preschool programs is carried out by 158 professionals. The public Preschool of Murska Sobota provides a daily program (eight hours) for children aged 11 months to six-years-old. Children are divided into two age groups; in the first age group from one to three years and in the second age group from three to six years.
With us today in this podcast are three preschool teachers from Public Preschool of Murska Sobota.
Please, introduce yourself to the listeners.
Anja: My name is Anja I work as a preschool teacher since December 2019.
Olga: I am Olga, and I work as a preschool teacher for more than 33 years.
Nives: My name is Nives. I have 8 years of working experience as a preschool teacher assistant and now as a preschool teacher.
Ajosa: Welcome! Together we will try to answer questions on how professionals in early childhood education and care feel in their working place.
Anja: I chose this profession because I loved children since I was very young, and this implies a desire to work with them in any way possible. In the past, I always found ways how to be in contact with them and to approach them. I always loved to read children's books, and I still do. I like singing songs, and I think I know how to get down to their level and that's why I am easily able to get their attention. I remember when I was a child, I always decorated my room during the holidays. I do the same thing now with children in preschool. If I look back, I think I always felt a sense of belonging and creativity with children in the preschool.
Olga: I decided to become a preschool teacher very early; that's why I did not face any problems with enrolling into a high school and choosing my profession. I think that, besides the fact that I love to work with children, my creativity and a bunch of ideas helped me as well to become a preschool teacher, which later I was able to share with children on a different level. This is how I satisfied my desires and expectations. I have been working 33 years as a preschool teacher.
Nives: I think, when you are 15-years-old and you have to decide what you want to do in life, you are still not able to identify the right profession. I decided to become a preschool teacher because I always loved to work with children. Even when I was finishing my studies at the university, I was not aware of how responsible and demanding work that awaited me was. Today, after a few years of work experience, ongoing professional development, and personal experiences I can say that I know what I am doing. At the same time, I know that I will learn through my life. I am enjoying my profession, I like to work with children, but the most important thing is that I am witnessing how children are growing, learning and becoming independent.
Aljosa: Thanks for all your answers. It was nice to hear how different factors influenced you to choose this unique profession.
Can you describe your working conditions such as standards, timetable, teamwork, salary, and other benefits?
Anja: If we touch first the criteria (number of children enrolled in the specific age group). I work in a first age group with children between the age of one and two, together with my assistant and the enrolment criterion is 14. Actually 12, but an additional two children can always be enrolled in the group from the municipality's side. So, in the first age group, the enrolment criterion is 12 or maximum 17 children per group, it depends on a specific age and in the second age group (for ages four to six) the enrolment criterion is 22, plus two additional children can be placed in the group from the municipality.
Olga: My working day lasts 6 hours and a half, the rest of the hours that are missing from the full eight hours of the working day I fill with professional preparations and planning, meetings with parents, afternoon meetings, and ongoing professional development. While arranging the working hours/schedule we remain flexible and we tailor it to the needs of the children, of course. I enjoy working in the team on the level of the preschool unit and the entire institution, and this contributes to the quality of the program and my personal growth.
Nives: Our duties consist of planning, and implementation of the educational process, working with parents, and contributing to the life and work in the preschool. Something notable is that the activities are planned based on the in-depth knowledge and understanding of child development and child's needs. We are choosing appropriate/relevant content, forms/approaches, and methods of work. I lead and organize activities. I am preparing educational materials. I encourage, support, and play with children. Activities that are implemented/carried out are connected with: music, dance, art, nature, society, math, language, and physical activities. Together we are creating a friendly environment and mutual trust, thereby encouraging children to be open-minded and willing to express themselves. I monitor each child's development, and I observe each child in different activities. We also need to ensure a suitable timetable for a daily routine – feeding, hygiene, rest, and outdoor activities. Besides this, we also look after the child's home to kindergarten connection and that collaboration takes place in different ways, such as parents’ meetings, individual meetings with parents, events, and other gatherings. I am also involved in other activities under the preschool's working plan. Employer provides us different opportunities for professional development that are helping us in quality implementation of the program.
Olga: (Other benefits we receive include) a hot meal/lunch provided at work and reimbursement of travel expenses.
Anja: Work equipment and footwear
Nives: Preschool teachers’ salaries fall under the public sector; that's why wage determination criteria are more or less obvious. There are pay grades, promotions, and statutory bonuses. I have eight years of working experience; I fall in pay category 32. This currently does not reach the average gross monthly wage in Slovenia, which in last year was around 1750 EUR gross.
Which of the following working conditions appears to be most challenging for you: financial valuation of your work or physical working conditions?
Olga: Financial valuation is fundamental, but for me, the physical conditions are equally important as they allow me to work with children without interruption.
Nives: There is no easy answer to this question since they are both directly related. When you are choosing your professional path, you are accepting it because it makes you happy. Since our profession falls in public sector and wages are considered low, according to the specific criteria, we don't have that much influence. Nevertheless, I am happy that education in Slovenian is in a good place, and also the working conditions in our preschool are at a high level.
Moderator: Super! If I wrap up: it is a rule that you are paid for an excellent job! And this is how it should be! But, all agree that financial estimation in general education could be better and more supportive as it is now.
Anja: I strive to ensure that my work/practice is of the highest quality, and I have to say that the basic working conditions/needs are provided for or in place. Sometimes it happens that I need a particular material or a specific tool that is not available at the moment, or it is still in procurement. That helps me expand my interest and mentality to prepare materials on my own.
At the workplace, I feel relaxed, even at home, I don't feel any kind of stress or pleasure/bad mood. But, I can't switch off completely. Wherever I am, in the shop or in nature – everything that I see makes me think about how this thing can be used in preschool. For sure, I am planning to stay in this profession.
Olga: The working conditions at my workplace are one of the key elements that impact the quality of my work in the classroom and consequently impact my wellbeing at work and in personal life as well. One of the crucial aspects is that I really enjoy working in my profession. I am planning to stay until retirement.
Nives: Yes, good working conditions have a significant impact on the quality of your work. I think, at our preschool, we have good working conditions. Wellbeing is influenced by suitable spaces such as classrooms, playgrounds, toys, and materials. Working hours are very well regulated. Occasionally dissatisfaction can be related to some disagreements and conflicts with colleagues or parents, and sometimes that can be projected on my home environment as well. But, all in all, I very much enjoy the profession and I am planning to stay in it.
If we go a little bit back to the working conditions that we already mentioned, are there any of them that you would like to change?
Anja: If I could, I would lower the number of enrolment rates. In my case, I have in classroom 14 children aged around one year, and it is very challenging to prepare planned activities since you have first to ensure safety and wellbeing.
Olga: The modern times have brought a lot of paperwork to preschools, which takes a lot of energy for teachers. There is less and less time for direct work with children, which is more important.
Nives: I would like to have more freedom, there are too many laws, regulations, and restrictions regarding materials and equipment that we can or cannot use in our practice.
Aljosa: So, we managed to collect a lot of ideas for improving the working conditions in preschool so that the workforce feels better at their workplaces.
What you value most about your work or profession?
Anja: For sure, the benefits of our job/profession are the working hours; we are working only in the morning, never late afternoon or evening. The only exceptions are events and professional development (trainings, seminars, workshops, etc.). During the weekends and holidays, we don't work. Another benefit is that a hot meal that is provided by our employer. The salary is satisfactory and always comes on the same date, and I like the flexibility of the working hours. I also like to work in a team, though for some of my colleagues this can be a huge challenge.
Olga: When I talk about my profession I always say that I am rich. Not rich in terms of money, but in terms of priceless moments spent with children that inspire and enrich me. I'm glad to feel that way.
Nives: The work is very diverse – every day is unique and different. I like to come up with new ideas and share new knowledge with children. It is precious to watch children develop, progress, and to see how enthusiastic and productive they are.
Would you like to say something for the very end, any remarks?
Anja: The profession is very diverse, and every day is different. It can also be a tough profession, but at the same time, it can be pleasant if you carry it in your heart.
Olga: Individuals who have empathy should enter into the profession. People who consider their job their mission.
Aljosa: Anja, Olga, and Nives, on behalf of the Early Childhood Workforce Initiative, I would like to thank you for your time and contribution to a broader understanding, at the international level, how it looks like to be a preschool teacher in Slovenia. Thank you!