By: Judy Lyden
The truly rough part of Early Childhood work is not even the exhaustion, but the pay. According to one news story after another, the state of earnings as an early childhood teacher, care giver or provider either in the private sector or the public sector is worse than fast food and has fewer benefits.
Studies over the years show that adults hired to work in day care are among the most poorly educated of any job and no wonder - you work all week at a job where there are no breaks, no lunch times, bathroom privileges are on the fly. You have to be on target 100% of the day and then you are abused by families who treat you like your employer, low man on the totem pole, scapegoat for all the negatives, and then you are kicked, spit on, cursed at by a three year old you are told never to correct.
So on Friday you reach for your paycheck and the amount is in the red. You owe the childcare. On Tuesday, you took half a day off for a root canal. You ordinarily bring your two children to work with you, and even though on Tuesday, your husband cared for your two children, you are docked pay for going to the dentist, but you still have to pay for full time childcare. Your paycheck and childcare expense don't equal out, so there is a deficit. It really happens.
In a regular week of all being present, an employee of a respectable local childcare said, "I could take my children with me if I wanted, but here's the glitch: "I could work a full week and after my children's day care was subtracted from my wages, I brought home something like $20.00. If I missed a day because one of my children was ill, I still had to pay for them for the spot, but I didn't get paid, so I owed the day care."
This is why there is a new staff member every single week at some places. It's really a disgrace, and it's covered up with a lot of blaming the State. Somehow the State is causing the all the problems, billions of dollars are just not enough.
But the State is not paying childcare workers, private individual centers make that decision. There are good private early childhood sites that get no federal funds but who still pay decent salaries with benefits. So what gives?
Treating people well is good for children just like treating people poorly can't be good for children; it can't be good for anyone. Outside the classroom, it takes longer than a week to run a TB test and receive a criminal check. Inside the classroom it takes longer than a week to learn all the names.
Now ask yourself, "If staff is turning over at this outrageous rate, what about the children? What are they getting as far as care goes? What kind of nurturing are they getting 40-50 hours a week by people who are paid squat? What kind of education plan can anyone expect from people who come and go realizing almost immediately that childcare doesn't pay the bills?
So what's to be done? As a twenty-five year veteran of the field, I can attest that hiring is a real pain. We don't hire anyone we don't know simply because we regard every child at the Garden School as our own family, so the people we hire have to work with us rather than for us. It's important to the family order, and that's tough to find even when you pay a salary and offer benefits. True sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but the promise is always there. It's for the teacher to see the family as theirs too and make the grade.
Teachers are any school's gold so the crumbling outdated scheme of minimum-wage-minus-childcare-revolving door employee is really a stumbling block in bringing childcare up to the modern family's expectations. It is absolutely necessary to salary any employee you want to keep. Offering benefits rather than liabilities makes sense as well. Hiring experienced, educated people who care about one another and the children in their care makes a childcare place wonderful but it means paying them.
Keeping people year after year allows a place can concentrate on the child's learning day for real. And since children require a combination of play and learn episodes every moment of the day, the pressures are shared among staff who care not only about the kids, but about each other.