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Education Support workers team leader retires

It’s the children and the things they do for the first time Early Intervention teacher, Teresa Blake, will miss when she retires after almost 15 years at McKenzie Centre.

“You get such a buzz out of seeing the children do something new. The slightest thing they do. It might be small but it’s still significant,” she says.

Teresa is a visiting specialist and ESW team leader at McKenzie Centre, a leadership role she took on three years ago.

Teresa has been supporting and mentoring Education Support workers, or ESWs as most call them, to work with children who have disabilities at a variety of early childhood centres which includes kohanga reo, kindergartens, Montessori centres, all of which have different philosophies and ways of doing things. ESWs move between several centres each day supporting the children’s inclusion.

ESWs support the child’s inclusion and implement their individual plan goals.

They do this in a play-based situation, playing alongside the child and following that child’s interests, while engaging the child in learning experiences that maximise their development. What does the child want to do? Where does the child want to play? How can I use the environment to support the child to learn?

“It takes a special type of person to do the job,” says Teresa.

“They must be very flexible. I tell the ESWs to ‘put a different hat on when you walk into the door of each centre’ and they do that beautifully.

“It can be difficult to get into some children’s world and so patience is an absolute must, as is observation. We need to know what captures that child’s interest.”

That is where the special moments can come into it. ESWs may have worked with a child for weeks or months and suddenly the child takes something out of their hand for the first time, demonstrating the child is beginning to connect with their ESW and their wider world.

Teresa says when she employs an ESW, she looks for applicants with lived experiences.

“We’ve got a cross section of people; we’ve had mums who have their own child with needs and have travelled that journey with them and now want to help another child. Some people don’t have any skill or knowledge, but they might have had an experience at some point, or it could just be an area of interest, or they may have knowledge of autism or Down’s Syndrome. It varies a lot.”

For Teresa, retirement is about “me time.” “Sooner or later, something keeps telling you, you need to slow down.”

She will miss the children who she says have been at the centre of everything she’s been doing as an Early Intervention teacher and ESW team leader. She has also loved the opportunity to support and mentor the ESWs to develop their skills and knowledge.

McKenzie Centre has employed Rachael Simpson to take on the role of ESW team leader.