Being an early childhood educator is a rewarding role but take it from me – you really need to be passionate about working with children because you don't do it for the money or working conditions!
The pay we hand over to our early childhood professionals is pretty appalling – it was when I started in this profession nearly 30 years ago and it still is. Yes there has been some progress made over the years but when you think about the important work educators do with the children of our future you have to wonder why more progress hasn't been made. You might have heard the phrase ‘babysitters get paid more than educators' or ‘I could earn more working at McDonalds or the supermarket'
Think that's an exaggeration? It's not. So usually you can be pretty sure that the people you see working in the childcare field really want to be there. They want to do their best. They love children. But let me tell you – they are often tired….and stressed – and unfortunately they are leaving the profession in record numbers.
I have often been told that I'm lucky I work in childcare because at least I can take my children with me. I have heard this no matter whether I am working in long day care/centre based care or in family day care/home based care. And I always reply “No, it's actually an awful profession to be a working parent in”. Did that surprise you? Let me tell you briefly why I say that and how I try to explain the ‘ridiculous' concept.
4 Reasons why it's stressful working as an educator with your own children in care.
You often have to work long shifts which may change week to week. When I worked in centres I would often have to be at work by 6.30am for the early shift but next week I would be doing the late shift and finish at 7pm. So it meant having to always get my daughter into a different routine – difficult for young children, she didn't understand why one week she was having breakfast at Mummy's work while mum juggled screaming or excited kids at drop off time and the next week she was having to eat dinner there while Mummy juggled talking to parents or feeding babies their dinner. Suffice to say it was hard to spend time with my own daughter – it's not what I was being paid to do. Did I mention though that I was paying the centre for this fantastic privilege of looking after my own child?
Working in childcare you need to accept you are going to get sick – a lot! There are all sorts of contagious things going around that either you or your children will end up getting. It's an occupational hazard and reality of the job. Unfortunately what makes it worse is the fact that often you don't get sick at the exact same time as your kids AND you only have a certain number of sick days which are absolutely never enough in this profession. I can not even tell you how many times I ended up in an office ‘discussing' the number of sick days I had used….because I couldn't come to work contagious and then neither could my daughter when she got sick the next week. Yet we got sick because of the environment Mummy worked in everyday.
I know many working parents have this guilt no matter what your profession or role but when you are working with your own children in the same care environment as you (no matter home based or centre based) it's BLOODY HARD! They don't understand why your full attention is not on them, you are trying to do your job while also being a parent. You are trying not to show any favoritism so sometimes without meaning to you are even harder on your own children than you need to be. You are often torn and you judge yourself harshly, second guessing both your professional and parenting skills and wondering what others think of you!
The reality of money
I mentioned before the low-level of pay educators receive – now add to that also paying to have your own children in care with you. Yes you still need to pay to have your children in a day care centre even if you work there and you are still paying if you have them in home based care with you because they are counted in your child ratio – in effect they are taking the place of a paying child.
I was often in the position of having my own child in the room I was working in which obviously does have its benefits but sometimes it did get to me that I was paying the centre owner high fees to teach and look after my own child. So for all those people that say to me “But at least childcare is free for you” That is why I give you that look 🙂
The after hours paperwork
It took me a lot of years to accept that I was always going to be taking some aspect of my work home with me due to the requirements of administration and documentation expected in the early childhood field. It is a reality and I know it is currently the major stress point for many educators but with support it can be manageable – but until you find that rhythm and support it does impact on your family life as you yet again pull out the paperwork on a weekend or after dinner at night!
So are you now wondering why anyone would even bother being an educator if it's all that bad?
Because we love working with children and it is what we trained to do!
However, the reality is that many educators are stressed or anxious and now second guessing their chosen field – no matter whether also a parent with their own children in care or not, that's just an added set of stress factors 😉
So what can we do as educators and as a community to help change this?
We can take some small steps to help ourselves as educators and also as parents to help the dedicated people who care and nurture your child on their important early learning path! No we can't change the pay rates or working environment and the expectations currently placed upon educators but we can certainly be well informed and very vocal about these things!
So let's work together to reduce stress and increase job satisfaction – why? Because happy educators mean happy children and that's worth the effort in my opinion!
Is there something from the list below you could try?
Reducing Stress in the Early Childhood Profession
- Seek out support groups and networking forums on Facebook, twitter and other networking social media channels to lessen isolation and increase professional development and support in your role. Talk with others and be open to new ideas and ways of doing things.
- Use blogs, online articles, training and other forms of professional development to explore more efficient systems of paperwork, programming and documentation. Make sure you feel comfortable and fully understand the professional development options you choose. Seek further clarification if you need to, especially if you have paid for a service.
- Targeted Training – I'd like to see centres and schemes initiate workshops to address common issues that cause anxiety and stress in educators. Topics like communicating with difficult parents, working with challenging behaviours, handling conflict within team and parent interactions, working with your own children in care, being assertive in the workplace, coping with increased paperwork requirements….you get the idea. Let's get back to basics and think simply and effectively. I think we need to take a step back and consider that professional development doesn't always need to be about a framework or the children – sometimes we need to address what is causing educators to be anxious and perhaps not perform to the best of their ability first. Stay tuned because as I write this I have decided I am going to make that happen!
- I'd like to see more opportunities for educators to work on communication skills – with both parents and team members. Let's explore emotional intelligence and active listening – if this is still taught in early childhood training I fear it is not as relevant and important as it should be! Communication skills and assertiveness training can break down many pillars of anxiety and stress in the workplace.
- Let's focus on quality mentorship, coaching and counselling. Many other high pressure professions do this well and also allocate funds to their staff to ensure they have someone impartial to speak to each month, set goals and work through issues and concerns. It also works well for groups and management tiers.
- Increase the number of sick days for early childhood educators – yes seriously. There are a lot of bugs floating around this working environment on a daily basis which means a higher incidence of time off work. Don't make them feel guilty about it.
- Focus on time management and being organised – let's face it, we all know the job is about more than ‘playing with the children' even if the wider community doesn't. There is prep of activities, documentation and planning, administration, cleaning and so much more. But by getting yourself organised and into a routine it will make your day less stressful I promise. Always think 1 day ahead and keep everything where you need it. Accept that it is up to you to be organised and accept how much you can achieve in a day. If you feel the expectations being placed upon you are unrealistic then speak up, don't cower in a corner and hope it will change. You make change happen.
- Pay educators more – they are trained professionals and should be treated as such. Don't keep handing out new regulations, expectations and frameworks to follow without expecting a backlash and drop in confidence and job dissatisfaction across the sector.
- Centres – Make it easier for working parent educators to have their own children in the care/working environment with them. Think about the shifts offered, training times, job security, family benefits and the challenges staff can face working with their own children – don't just take their money as an added bonus for them working for you.
- Tell your Government whenever you get the opportunity about the importance of early childhood education and the vital and professional role it plays in a child's life. Tell them if you are a family day care educator that you are NOT a babysitter and that it is the right of all parents to choose the child care service that best suits their child. Can you imagine how stressful it is to tell some parents they can no longer bring their children because the government has dictated that you must have your own children home with you now (or only in long day care). Keep the pressure on Government to realise that the majority of educators are passionate professionals doing their job well under tough circumstances…not the minority who need the actual punishing.
To be honest I could go on for quite some time here (which regular readers will be well aware of!) but I don't want to add to your stress levels 😉
Whether you are a parent, coordinator, manager, director, owner or educator – Can you do just one of the things from the list above tomorrow to make a difference?
I'd love to hear how you reduce anxiety and stress levels if working in an early childhood environment. Share yours in the comments below or on my Facebook page so we can inspire and support others!
I'm going to be offering a free online networking and mentoring event each month for educators soon – do let me know if this is something you might find useful.
You can also find out more about the training and workshops I currently present by clicking here.
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.