I followed my husband to come to Australia. Before that, I lived in China and I was a GP in a clinic. I met some young patients in the clinic, and sometimes I went to schools and local childcare centres for general check-ups with children. I didn't know what I wanted to do in Australia.
The first time I came to Australia I studied certificate III of Children Services, then fell pregnant and we went back to China to have the baby. There, I worked in an early learning centre as a GP; I enjoyed the job because I was with children everyday. We came back to Australia a few years later and I finished my certificate.
I started working in a private centre. It was totally different to working in China but I liked it. Early childhood education in Australia is more focused on children's self regulation, social skills, emotional skills and independence, whereas in China there is a more academic focus. When you grow up, knowing certain calculations isn’t as important as having independence and social, emotional and self regulation skills. That shapes a person.
Initially, I didn’t think about my pay. It was my first job and I didn’t know how much people would earn in other centres. When you come from another country, you want to settle down and find a stable job; you don’t think about the pay at first. Everything was settled and so I was satisfied. I now know it was very low pay: $19 an hour.
There was a cultural difference at first as I had just come from another country. I didn’t even know how to make toast at first! My first time working in the kitchen, when management had asked me to make breakfast, I put the butter and jam on both sides of the bread. They were wondering, “How long is Leer taking to make breakfast?”, and laughed when they saw what I’d done!
Little by little, I learned a lot. I thought it would be good to work in new centres to learn even more. I’ve now worked in four centres.
After three years I was earning $23 an hour and at that moment I realised my pay was very low. My friends who worked in different industries said, “You get only 23 dollars?!” They were earning at least $30/hour. I thought, “Oh my gosh should I change careers? But I don’t want to change careers because I love children!”
By then we had two children and it was only because of my husband’s salary as well as savings in China that we could make it work. Otherwise, it would have been a struggle.
I completed my diploma part time across two years right after my certificate III and when I finished I got a pay rise at $24.99/hour. Early learning centres must have at least 50% of staff with diplomas. My centre at that time counted me as having a diploma, even though I had not yet completed it, just to meet the requirements. However, they didn’t pay me the rate an educator with a diploma should earn!
I’m now at a good not for profit centre. It is always above the staff ratios - if there are 16 kids in a room there are always five educators. We receive a lot of continuous training so we can learn exactly what we want. We also learn a lot from the Educational Coordinator - and I’m now paid the highest I’ve ever been as the centre pays a lot above the award rate.
The working environment at this not for profit centre is very good. I feel like the management cares about us. They are more respectful than the private centres, who are just concerned with earning money. This centre pays for you to get the training and to take the time; they don’t do that in the private centres. We get a lot of support, we have a very good relationship with parents and children, and we have a multicultural team which I like.
My eldest son has ADHD and my younger one is in the process of maybe being diagnosed. Working in childcare and learning lots of knowledge has helped me to support my own children. Especially with ADHD; I understand why my children easily get frustrated, why they forget things, and how their brains work in the moment.
I really enjoy my job. I can see a child go from the babies’ room, to crawling, standing up, starting to walk, starting to talk, starting to run around, maybe arguing a little with other children and they come to you for comfort. You can witness a child growing up until they go to school. Being that witness is amazing.