My life changed completely when I started working in early childhood education
In 1989, four years after we immigrated to the US, I was first introduced to Head Start preschool. I still remember those initial days walking my children to school each morning. Despite all of life’s challenges, I could always look forward to my children’s joy in anticipation of getting to school. They loved seeing their teachers, and truth be told, I loved seeing their teachers. I was inspired by these dedicated teachers who give everything to help children learn, despite all the odds stacked against them.
One day, the teachers asked me to stay for few minutes to help the children with their name tags and read to them. I was so nervous, I became red and my hands started sweating. Each day after that the teachers asked me to do a little bit more. Eventually, I was asked to join the policy committee and got more involved in how the program was run. This was all a very big deal for me. I come from a culture of submissiveness, where for years I had no voice. It was my husband’s way or the highway. Suddenly, I found myself and started to recognize the power I had as a woman, and as a mother.
After my 4th child began Head Start, the same teachers who inspired me to volunteer in the classroom supported my participation in a nine month program to obtain the necessary requirements to become Assistant Teacher. When I graduated from the program, I was so proud. Finally, I could really begin working in the classroom and inspiring and empowering children, and their parents, just as my children’s teachers had done for me. A lot had changed since the timid woman I used to be first walked into the classroom. By this point, I had gained the courage to escape a marriage overcome by domestic abuse. I was not completely out of the darkness, but I knew my won strength. My palms were no longer sweaty when I walked into the classroom.
My life changed completely when I started working. I was a teacher, a professional in the eyes of the world, but my salary was less than $8 per hour. It was not enough to support my four children. I could not afford to send them to a high quality after school program, the most that I could afford was a baby sitter to take care of them after school. It was sad for me. I was working so hard and seeing the benefits of education in front of my eyes, but couldn’t afford it for my own children. Another challenge was being involved in their education. I always had to beg their teachers to schedule parent conferences outside of my working hours. I was often unable to participate in events or field trips. As a mom, I felt so guilty because I knew the importance of being involved in my children education.
Along the years, I realized that I was not the only one dealing with this situation. The majority of my co-workers were going through the same problems. Most of us struggled to attend our children’s school events and pay for after school programs. In fact, many of us had trouble meeting our basic needs. It’s ironic, Head Start is there to support the lowest income families. Yet, with unstable pay and benefits that could change at the whim of congressional leaders Head Start workers are often forced to struggle as much as the families we serve. As teacher, I am proud for doing everything I could to provide a high quality education to my students; but as a mom, I had to pay a high price for not being able to be involved as I should in my own children’s education.
I’ve never regretted choosing this career. I have now worked for twenty years in Head Start. When I reached fifteen years working, I began to notice how significant funding cuts impacted our children and their families, as well as my coworkers. I started questioning myself where these cuts would take us, and when would they stop. I began wondering who was making these decisions to cut the dream and aspirations of our children and parents. Why were they increasing our workload, with so little regard for us or the quality of our program. I was determined to find the answers and to fight for change. I made the decision to become an active member in my Union, AFT Local 1475, Early Childhood Federation. Since then, I lost the fear to speak truth employers and elected leaders. Three years after I first got involved, I was elected President. It wasn’t easy for me to leave the classroom, and the career that I love so much, but to see the urgent need for reform in the early childhood education gives me the motivation to move forward and not give up. This fight will take a long time, but I won’t rest until I can see that the Head Start families and workers have respect and a promising future.