Worthy Work

Monday, August 30, 2010

In 1996, the year that I was accepted to Columbia Teachers College to do my Master's Degree, I earned $13,000 Before Taxes.

I worked roughly 49 weeks a year. I worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., five days a week. I cared for 8 children - ages 6 weeks through 18 months in an employer sponsored child care which was located on premises. The company developed standardized tests for elementary children. While I had health insurance, I had to pay $50 per week for my own, single person coverage. Additionally, there were co-pays to be covered when I got sick. I got sick like every other teacher who works with young children gets sick. This is to say - Not as much as my first couple of years teaching, but ear infections, conjunctivitis, bronchial infections and a variety of other odd and exciting diseases appeared in the classroom and I was occasionally infected.

When I took the job as Director of a child care, my salary soared to $27,000 per year. I was in charge of a budget of nearly a million dollars and had roughly 30 employees. I wrote grants, coordinated curriculum, developed and wrote policy, and was responsible for the health and well being of 140 children. As a salaried employee, I often worked 60 hours a week. I covered classrooms, was the cook when she was on vacation, had meetings with parents and teachers and overall led the vision and direction of the center. Because this position was management within a Housing Authority, the health insurance was much better - for myself and for the staff.

Why am I telling you this?

For many years, early childhood professionals have been vague and ashamed of the money the we earn. We say we don't earn much...but we never specify, really. We are a profession of women - and nice women don't talk about how much they earn. No. We just do it cause we LOVE children.


Well - hopefully, Yes. Work with very young children needs incredibly special people. Many of the people working in child care centers are those people. Some are not. One of my longstanding jokes is that you can sort all teachers into two distinct groups of people - Those who love children and are amazing at their jobs...and those who chose the profession because they can dominate people smaller than them and always assert that they are RIGHT.

As a professional, and later a consumer of high quality child care, I worried for the ability of those very talented people to earn a living wage in this profession. Those of us with Bachelors degrees were often driven from the classroom to administrative or other jobs in order to simply sustain a modest living. The best teachers rarely stayed. They couldn't afford it.

Now, I place no blame on the families who use child care services. The reality is that they are often paying the maximum amount that their family budget can allow. When you start to compound 200 ( and often more) dollars a week for care with multiple children, you quickly reach the point of no return. As a person who paid many thousands of dollars for very high quality child care myself, my ideals and knowledge did not make the check I wrote any easier or less painful.

As Director, one of the most amazing things I did was a functional cost analysis. Room by Room. So while I knew, anecdotally, that the infant and toddler wing lost money I never could tell you exactly how much.

What I found floored even me. In my infant room, we had 8 full time available openings. I had two full time staff, and some part time staff who covered lunches and times when ratios remained high, but one of the primary staff needed to go home.

Before I go further...do you all understand what I mean by Ratios? In a nutshell, each age group can have a maximum amount of children. This is dictated by available space and how many qualified adults are present to supervise. The ratio in New Hampshire for infants is 4 infants to 1 adult. Ergo, if there are 5 babies present you need 2 adults. Generally, the ration goes up with age....5:1 for one year olds, 6:1 for two year olds, 8:1 for three year olds, 12:1 for four year olds and 15:1 for five year olds.

If you use purely a business model, you keep the rooms at Maximum capacity in order to break even or even turn a profit. However, from a Quality model, we know that 24 Four year olds in one room is a design for the portal of hell - even with 2 adults.

Since I believed in Quality above profit (and valued the sanity of my teachers), I tended to keep my rooms at a lower ratio. This of course led to budget shortfalls and is one of the many reasons I finally got the boot as Director. I wouldn't stuff the rooms full of children. And I admitted I was depressed and on Prozac.

But I digress.

In the infant room I found that it cost me roughly 375 dollars per week - per infant to simply have the room open and operational. That was staff costs and benefits, light, heat, supplies and equipment.

The parents paid (in 2000) $135 dollars per week.

Are you seeing the gap?

It is what Gwen Morgan of Wheelock College termed the "Trilemia of child care" -

1. Quality demands low child to staff ratio's
2. Staff recruitment, retention and morale require salaries ( and benefits) which allow them to live above the poverty line
3. Affordability to parents calls for reasonable fees


Parents can never full pay what it costs to provide a day of child care. Staff with degrees can't stay because they can't afford to continue to subsidize the gap between what parents can afford and what centers pay, leading to turnover and stress for children and parents. Using a business model for child care demands that a center stuffs it's rooms to maximum ratio in order to avoid losing more money.

And the circle goes round and round.

Until our society comes to grips with what it WANTS for young children, we will continue to chase this tail. Of course, you still have the hard core "Mothers should stay home and raise their own children" people - who are often the same people who feel that "ALL mothers receiving welfare should work 40 hours a week".

Too often the political here overrides the common sense, research based information. We know well educated teachers provide better care. We know that these well trained teachers require salaries of more than 13,000 per year. We know that children and families are unsettled when turnover happens in child care programs. We know that smaller class size means better care and education. We know that the first five years of brain development are vital for a child's educational base. We know that children who are loved and known in their child care programs end up having less social and behavioral issues down the road.

But, so what.

To FUND this knowledge, to set aside our "free market" mentality when it comes to child care doesn't seem to be making any headway. To set aside the puritanical values and morays of what it means to be a woman, a professional woman who may enjoy her job, and "hand over" the care of your child to someone else doesn't seem to be gaining any ground.

No. Mothers must be punished for being poor. Being professional. Being female. The least well paid in our society must then build it's labor on the backs of other women - equally poorly paid.

I don't have an answer. I do know, however, that we can't NOT talk about how much money we don't earn.

My name is Dawn. I have a B.S. in education from the University of Vermont. I have a M.S in Child Development from Wheelock College. I am working on my PhD in early child hood education. I have been published in academic journals. I have spoken at conferences and workshops. I have have been privileged to help raise the babies of many families, and I have hugged mothers returning to work as they cried and handed their six week old infants to me.

In my last year as a teacher, I earned $13,000.

18 Baleful Regards:

Jamie said...

What a sad statement for the children in our country. If not for people like you, America would fall flat on it's face. I don't know the answer, either, but I wish my children had had the benefit of a caring person like you when they were forced to be in daycare. Thank you for an eye-opening look.

Monie said...

Dawn, you are my hero.

I have always said that teachers should be getting salaries along the lines of what these athletes, entertainers, etc. get. This is a shame...

Anonymous said...

There's a daycare/preschool near me. It's too pricey for my family, but I like to think they pay their teachers what they're worth. They all have degrees in early education.
One of my sorority sisters worked in a daycare in college. She finally quit and worked more hours bartending because it paid better.

Jaelithe said...

This is one of the main reasons I decided to stay home with my son for the first few years. Not because I think daycare is bad for kids-- I think good daycare can be good for kids-- but because I knew that I couldn't afford to pay a good childcare worker what her work truly merited on whatever income I could make going back to work full-time. So even if I found what I considered to be a good daycare center or a good nanny that I could afford, I would feel guilty the entire time for not paying my provider enough.

But not everyone can make the decision I made. Especially not single moms. How can we fix this situation? I have no idea.

When I was a part-time nanny for a brand-new lawyer and a WAH journalist in college, I got paid about $7 an hour, with no benefits, which really was all they could afford despite their good professions, considering they were still paying off bills for their wedding, their new house, their used cars, and their student loans.

(I suppose I could have made more as a waitress-- with good tips-- but I fell in love with the kids.)

becks said...

Thank you for really breaking it down like that... I still think it's way too expensive to send my two to daycare when I go back to work next year, but now I have a better understanding of why.

Anonymous said...

What you are describing is the result of a society that does not value the work of caregiving. Check out the MOTHERS initiative of the National Association of Mothers Centers - an organization with the vision of a society in which the work of taking care of others is valued, supported, at the center of public discussion and a priorty in public policy. Check us out at www.MothersCenter.org or www.mothersoughttohaveequalrights.org

Anonymous said...

I wish I had an answer as well. I'm facing a mountain of debt that will not allow me to stay home with my child(ren). I have one in daycare and another on the way, and I can't afford daycare for both of them. I have no idea what we're gonna do, but I do know that what I pay does not in any way equal what my daycare providers deserve. I can't give more. Hell, I don't know how I'm going to cope having to come up with the money for two kids. Something's gotta give. I know I'm not the only one in this position and I'm a professional woman with a good job who made a few bad decisions financially before parenthood entered our household. Now, I'm paying for it, and I'm afraid my kids are going to be, too.

Jessicasays said...

One thing that might help is longer paid maternity leaves. If a new mom was financially able to stay home for a full year, the ratios would at least start at the 5:1 ratio...

Anonymous said...

My Name is McKenna. I have A BA in Sociolgy from Castleton State College,I am earning my masters from Long Island University in elem edu., I have worked with children aged 6 weeks to 6 years for the last 7 years. I have worked in two centers as head preschool teachers. I have over 20,000 dollars in student loans. I pay for my own health insurence to the tune of over 300 dollars a month. I Love my job and age group more than you know. I make 15.08 an hour. I am 30 and I live with my Parents, and its not for a lack of trying.

Anonymous said...

I'm a married, working, mom of one with another one on the way. My daughter is in a wonderful family day care with 5 other kids. But when the new baby comes, if I want both kids to be in the same place, my day care costs per month will literally be more than my rent. (And that's if we stay in our little 2 br apt.) I cry when I think about it. Seriously. And at the same time, the fabulous woman who spends 10 hours each day helping my daughter and others learn and grow qualifies for subsidized housing. So it's not like she's making out like a bandit here. It's just that the system is broken. And all of us are suffering because of it.

Anonymous said...

"Of course, you still have the hard core 'Mothers should stay home and raise their own children' people - who are often the same people who feel that 'ALL mothers receiving welfare should work 40 hours a week'."

Brilliant and insightful, Dawn. I love that you said it.

Julie Marsh said...

Absolutely true - every word of it. I don't have the same education or experience that you do, but I've written the hefty check each week - and I've received the checks for a $10 hourly wage. It doesn't add up.

Those of us who use child care can start doing something immediately to help - treat your child care provider with respect. And a nice holiday bonus doesn't hurt either.

Anonymous said...

Twelve years ago when I was pregnant with my first son I planned to quit my job and stay home. My boss offered me a raise to stay because he had done the math and realized that at 20,000 a year I would be working to pay for child care.

"Mothers should stay home and raise their own children" people - who are often the same people who feel that "ALL mothers receiving welfare should work 40 hours a week".

That's because our society really doesn't care about the children of the poor.

Bobita said...

This issue is so very close to my heart. (As it likely is for every mother/woman.) There are so many things that get me going about this topic, but one of the most egregious is the fact that the US labels itself a "Christian Nation" with "Christian Morals" and "Family Values" and then DOES NOT subsidize quality daycare or provide universal healthcare for its citizenry. Both of which are decidedly Un-Christian, arguably immoral, and clearly lacking of ANY SHRED of interest in family values.

As one of those people who is not valued in this society, who is marginalized and routinely, thoroughly SILENCED as a mere matter of my gender and my ability to bear children, I believe it will take nothing short of a revolution to change the state of things in the US. Demoralizing as that may sometimes be, my daughter deserves my best efforts to make what little changes that I can.

Thank you, thank you for being willing to break the silence on this issue. You really should start a True Daycare Confessions or True Hypocrisy site for this...some kind of "This is how I, as a mother/woman/marginalized human being, have been intolerably silenced and mistreated by my God-Fearing national leaders and THEIR government."

OK, OK...sorry for the hijack. Thank you for this dose of truth.

Beth said...

Dawn - an absolutely incredible piece of writing. Send this out - get this word out a little more clearly, a bit more concisely than it has been thus far. More people (particularly in the US) need to understand what you have written.

You have done well to address this, with the right mixture of personal and business acumen. Great, great job.

Ruth Dynamite said...

It's a crime, Dawn. I feel your pain.

Anonymous said...


I have been a teacher for the past 10 years, 5 of them trying to raise a family of my own, afford quality childcare, etc. My oldest is off to kindergarten in a week, and my 3 year old is at a new (seemingly) high quality daycare center in a fairly affluent town. I know what I pay, and it's not very much. As a teacher, it kills me, the imbalance between what I believe teachers deserve and what I have to do to get by on my own teacher's salary. I don't know the answer. Anyone??? Your post is so powerful--thank you for shedding such light.

jwg said...

I meet my adult CDA students for the first time on Tuesday. I'm sending them all to read this post. The first module we work on is Professionalism. This should lead to some interesting discussions.

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