What Undergraduate Early Childhood Education and Care Students Find ‘Troublesome’ During the Early Period of Practice Placements

Taylor, Mark (2015) What Undergraduate Early Childhood Education and Care Students Find ‘Troublesome’ During the Early Period of Practice Placements. AISHE-J: The All Ireland Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, 7 (2).


Social professional students, such as those training to become Early Childhood Education and Care Practitioners, Social Workers or Social Pedagogues, transform their understanding of the social professional role during practice placements. Students observe practitioners at work, eventually learning how to direct their own activities with service users. Yet the challenging part of this learning journey, which students are required to traverse to perform social professional functions, frequently gets minimised in tales of professional identity metamorphosis.

Employing the education theory ‘Threshold Concepts’ (Meyer & Land, 2003), I was interested in exploring the ‘troublesome’ aspects of learning during practice placements for Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) students. I interviewed six ECEC practice placement supervisors and six final-year ECEC students to understand these troubles.

Following a narrative analysis of these interviews, I identified two principal learning challenges which arise for ECEC students during the early phase of practice placements. First, students must come to terms with an unfamiliar workplace culture. Second, students must learn to ‘find their voice’ to participate in preschool settings. These difficulties place cognitive, emotional and physical demands on ECEC students; these demands should not be underestimated.

Arguably, college educators do their students an injustice by not acknowledging, understanding and exploring the difficult aspects of placement learning. For a start, students will remain ill-prepared for their placement experiences. More widely, admitting that childcare work can be difficult for students aligns with a commitment to promote and normalise a wider discourse which acknowledges that childcare work can be challenging at times for every childcare worker. Consequently, identifying what students find difficult during practice placements enables us to reflect more generally on the supports which need to be put in place for childcare workers, to prevent a repeat of dangerous childcare practices witnessed on RTÉ’s Prime Time (television) programme (June 2013).

View Item