Me: Can you tell me why you are interested in this position? What drew you to apply?
Candidate: Oh, I just love kids.
Me: Oh really? Can you tell me what that looks like for you, your love for kids? What do you mean when you say you ‘love kids?’
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been part of this exchange as a child care center director. The chirping crickets have time for a few rounds before the candidate can come up with an answer.
Sometimes, not often, I’m afraid, he or she would be able to explain a solid connection between “loving kids” and the early care and education work they were proposing to do for me. Most often, though, the answer I got was that they loved kids because of something THEY COULD GET from interacting with children: hugs, funny stories, unconditional love, cuteness to admire and laugh at. Other times, they had very specific types of children in mind that they “loved.” The toddler who waddles over, smiling and with arms wide open or the preschooler who sits, quietly and obediently “listening” while you “play school.”
While there certainly are each of those types of children in most early childhood programs and settings, love for them will not sustain you in work that is packed full of dirty faces, runny noses, active bodies, “misbehavior” and toileting accidents. This is when the real work begins and when children need real answers to the question, “why do you choose to work with young children?”
No. Loving it when a child meets your needs for affection and attention and acceptance and appreciating those who “play school” along with you is not enough. When I ask “why are you interested in this position” or “why do you choose to work with young children” I want more.
I want answers like, “I understand their development and want to use that understanding to help them grow and learn,” with examples. I want, “I know that the work we do with children at this age is so valuable,” with examples. I want, “Because I have something I can give them,” with examples.