Childcare Challenges: A Teacher's Perspective
It’s no secret that America’s child care system is in need of major reform. Across the country, families struggle to pay child care bills on top of other expenses, and many parents cannot find a child care program with an open space in their neighborhood.
What parents might not know is how much the current child care system challenges child care workers. As a child care teacher for three years for infants and toddlers, I experienced first-hand the hardships that early educators face. The pay is low, the hours are long, the workplace conditions are ever-changing, and many teachers work multiple jobs to meet their basic needs.
Here are three things that every parent should know about being a child care provider for infants
1. First, as child care workers, we constantly struggle with limited staff resources. I worked primarily with children age 12-28 months, with eight babies in the room and two teachers. This is in line with NAEYC’s recommendation of keeping child-to-teacher ratios of 4 babies to each adult. Although my center met this recommendation, serving this many young children was still hard work. Any parent knows that caring for one baby is a full-time job, but imagine being responsible for the needs of four babies. On top of that, when one teacher is changing a diaper and has their back to the room, the other teacher is left watching out for seven babies on their own. Unfortunately, the finances of a program make it unsustainable to have lower ratios, as they cannot afford to hire more teachers. With low-staffed centers, everyone is put at a disadvantage.
2. Second, the lives of child care workers can be stressful outside of the center. Out of necessity, many teachers work multiple jobs. Having to put your energy into another job takes away from the effort you could be giving the children to which you provide care. The general stress caused by low pay--for example struggling to put food on the table for your family--affects child care workers’ ability to do their job. As a student, I often stay up late to study and constantly have schoolwork on my mind. This takes the attention away from the children, which they do not deserve. They deserve and need all of our attention.
Although I worked as a child care provider part time throughout college, many child care workers have made this their career. But it does not come close to providing adequate financial support. In Missouri, where I was a child care worker, the median hourly wage is $9.96 and only covers 42% of the living wage for a mother and one child. I can only imagine how much more stressful it would be for a teacher providing meals, clothes, school supplies, and other necessities for her family.
Lastly, child care workers have to always be ready for the unexpected. For example, the weather can change multiple times throughout the day, which can change your lesson plans. If the weather becomes too extreme, the children can no longer go outside, which takes away vital gross motor skill development time. In that instance, teachers have to quickly think of an inside activity that will yield the same benefits. However, not all teachers have the training to improvise new indoor activities. Being an early childhood educator is so much more than babysitting, and teachers need robust professional development training to be responsive to changing needs of children.
As child care workers, we work to provide the best care to your child, given the constraints of our workplace. But the child care system that we have today is not cutting it. States have tried to push initiatives to support the workforce, but paying workers a fair wage and keeping the cost affordable for families requires a public investment, just as we do for education when children are older. The Child Care for Working Families Act was introduced in Congress in 2017 and offers a path forward to make quality child care more affordable for all families and improve wages for child care workers, alleviating many of the problems discussed above. However, Congress has yet to act on this important piece of legislation.
Right now, early childhood education has only been affordable for higher income families and as a country, we have made little progress toward improving pay and working conditions for the early childhood workforce. Families need access to high-quality care, and workers need fair compensation for the incredible work they do.