Early Care and Education Manifesto: Part 1

Saturday, April 17, 2010

You know, SB is completely right in her comment to me about my sticking my big old opinionated opinion into a conversation to which I was no part of in a coffee shop. I was a Supah-huge wench to that woman in the coffee shop. She would have been well within her rights to tell me where to go and how to get there.

I also know that SB knows and loves me Long time in bloggy and even Real World, so I can take her criticism with the grain of salt it is intended. Had someone tried to do that same to ME in a coffee shop, I can assure you that there would be one verbally battered patron exiting...and it wouldn't have been me.

But let me tell you WHY it is important - that term "Day Care" as different from "Child Care" or even better: "Early Care and Education".

After I graduated from the University of Vermont in 1992, in the Upper 1/3 of my graduating class with a Bachelors of Science in Education and a minor/concentration in English Literature, my first job was at a child care center. Due to some very strange economic issues, there were NO teaching positions when I came out of college - particularly for beginning teachers. We couldn't even get subbing work. Many of us were funneled into Child Care positions. Similar skill set, after all.

In hindsight, one of the more amusing things to me is that vast hand of destiny in my future career and professional life. I would have never chosen to work with infants, yet that is what I ended up doing. Most of the other "Real Teachers" in Child Care wanted to at LEAST have the kindergarten age kids. I mean, then they could use their knowledge of lesson plans and academics to feel like they hadn't wasted ALL of the money.

A rare few of us migrated to younger children. We found we had talent. We found that this age - this Infant through Two Year Old group - Well, if you could manage them successfully, you could do ANYTHING.

By this I mean, they had the most challenging Parents. The relationship with parents, by virtue of their child's still developing communication skills, had to be close and personal. Furthermore, parents are SUPER vulnerable to judgement in these years. Even if a family had more than one child, each child was completely different and new. Almost nothing that THIS child did was the same as the previous and/or subsequent child. This uneven ground that constantly shifted and changed made parents, in particular, feeling like they never really Knew what the hell was going on. Every time they thought they figured it out....It changed.

Then there was the observation skills. The best lessons I ever learned about observation and recording were learned on the floor of the infant room at Alphabet House. We watched the children. We lay on the floor with the children. We wrote down what we saw. We discussed it as peers with each other to gain other opinions about any concerns or general observations. As an infant caregiver, I had to set aside anything I knew and simply Watch. I had to formulate and reject or accept theories based on all the developmental knowledge I had accumulated to that point. I learned to watch the children and ask "Why"....because there was always an answer.

In this group of infants, I also honed my presence with children. If there is a Tough Crowd in any situation, it is a group of 12 infants. You show fear...or disrespect and they will eat you alive. They will refuse to eat. They will refuse to sleep. They will refuse to allow you to touch them to change their diapers. Infants and Toddlers are the absolute personality detectors. Later on, I could often tell if someone was even going to get an second interview by watching them approach an Infant or Toddler in the room. 90% of the people came directly AT the child, with some crazy fake voice...which tells the child to RUN AWAY, THIS UNKNOWN ADULT IS CRAZY! 10% may sit down on the floor and wait for a child to approach them ...those were the ones with potential.

So, imagine my surprise when people would hear that I worked with Infants and ask me "So you are a babysitter? When are you going to get real teaching job?"

That was my first glimpse into the fact that the work that I did, everyday, was not valued. It was throw away work, that Anybody could do, and which certainly did not require a Bachelor's Degree in Education! In the years I worked as a Child Care provider, more people than I can count told me I was wasting my talent, or asked when I was going to leave to get a "real" job. Many more were stunned when they learned I had a University degree. I mean, I COULD be working in an office photocopying and making more money than I was making caring for children.

And it was true. It was awful to see people being offered 10 dollars an hour to deliver pizzas, when I was earning 7.50 per hour caring for people's infants. And paying for my own health care.

Oddly, I remember the day that something in my brain switched over. I was calling a parent to tell her that I was pretty sure her daughter had impetigo, and needed to be seen by her Pediatrician.

This baby, in particular, had been a tough nut to crack as she had been a VERY HIGH NEED child, and by the time she got to me at age 5 months, had been asked to leave three other child care situations since she screamed ALOT. I carried her in a sling for a month to prove to her that I was a trustworthy adult, something she had not had a great deal of in her previous child care situations. Needless to say, this baby eventually attached to me - as did her parents - and we had a great relationship.

The mother's assistant answered the phone and I explained who I was and that I needed to speak to the Mom. The assistant paused and asked, "So this is her babysitter?"

CLICK in my brain.

Babysitter? I had been screamed at by this baby for a solid month. I had worked with her and gotten her to trust me so that she could now easily go down for naps...or play on her own...or smile and laugh! I had worked with her parents so we had a routine for separations which were neither Sneaking away (I'm being abandoned by the adult I love most) nor Endless lingering (Are you happy? I'm going to stay until you get upset, cause I need to see you upset to see me go or I can't separate!!!)

"No.", I calmly said. "This is her Child Care Professional."

When the mom got on the line, she was laughing. "She'll never call you a babysitter again!"

12 Baleful Regards:

jwg said...

If I could figure out how to print this I'd give it to every student in my CDA classes. I tell them on the first night of class that if I ever hear them refer to themselves as babysitters I'll toss them out of class- and then we talk about what to say if parents use the word. Well said.

Nancy said...

I must admit I have been guilty of referring to my girls' schools (pre-elementary) as "day care." Fortunately, I have never referred to them as babysitters (and never ever would), but I will try hard to call it child care rather than day care.

Like you, it frustrates me that so many excellent early childhood teachers are underpaid and underappreciated. I try to do whatever I can for our girls' teachers, but there are so many parents who have that snobby mindset. It's really a shame.

SUEB0B said...

You're right, I do love you to pieces and my comment was directed at the Nosy McNoserson part of the interaction, not the actual correction so much. Lately I have been attracting the attentions of Old White Dudes who seem to want to tell me how to do everything from exercise to walk my dog to use my cell phone, and I think I am just in a MOOD about it. Yesterday I barely contained myself from flipping one of them off (I was at a stoplight, looking at a photo on my phone. Not talking. Not texting. Looking at a photo. While stopped. And he saw fit to lecture me (until I rolled up my window while making the "yap yap yap" hand gesture) about texting while driving GAH).

Educating young children is like caring for the elderly. Everyone knows it is important but no one wants to pay for it.

Anonymous said...

Yes and yes! As a kindergarten teacher in Ontario (it could be anywhere really it doesn't matter) the grade that I teach is often devalued by parents, other teachers (I mean I teach these kids to read for f*ck sakes, to extract meaning from something that was previously meaningless to them) and I will often get my soapbox out and tear into a rant that it's not all about playtime, and that play is learning and learning is play(I'm lovely at parent/teacher conferences and staff meetings) and as someone who did a lot of ECE work before getting a 'real' teaching job, I can honestly say I learned more about development, curriculum planning and classroom management on my hands and knees in the toddler room than at a faculty of education.

Also I love that you carried that baby around in a sling.

jwg said...

And while we're having this discussion, I think the lack of respect for early childhood education is why the schools have been able to turn Kindergarten into such a hostile environment for many kids. If you don't recognize the value of block play, think dramatic play is a waste of time, and assume that time not spent doing paper and pencil work is wasted then you have no incentive to support appropriate pracices. Fourty or so years ago when I started teaching I wasn't allowed to teach Kindergarten because I couldn't play the piano. Maybe that ought to be a requirement again.

Anonymous said...

Block play? Drama centre? How will we have time to prep. for EQAO (Ontario standardized testing)?

Dawn said...

Oh Mombshell..I am so sorry that the No Child Left behind stuff migrated to Canada. Sigh. We were just having this discussion in my research group - and I was trying to explain how they could write "outcomes" that still preserved the integrity of what they were doing in the classroom.

And Yes, JWG - Early Childhood Allowed itself to be hijacked by others. Our language got appropriated and assimilated until it meant nothing like what we intended it to mean. Half the time when I hear Developmentally appropriate it is used in the most horrifying contexts.

Not to mention that somewhere along the line the idea that leaving children ALONE was BAD ( and I am not talking about leaving them in a room alone by themselves)...but allowing them time and space to negotiate their PLAY rather than have every minute spent cranking out some directed activity, or piece of art or worksheet...

Not to mention administrators who have no experiences with Younger than age 8 children. The chain of support simply isn't there.

Dawn said...

And I know you love me SB, as I do you. And like I said, I totally OWN my Nosy Mcnoserson behavior there. Usually I forget that there are other things ( besides the continual running dialog in my brain) when I open my mouth and let the gems all tumble out....

jwg said...

So now that we are all thoroughly depressed what do we do about it, in two countries? I don't think things will get any better until parents realize what harm all of this is doing to their children and stage a very large uprising.Heaven only knows nobody is listening to the professionals. I keep offering to organize a "Keep Your Child Home on Test Day" movement in my very small town but nobody takes me seriously. Sorry to hear this nonsense has spread to Canada.

Unknown said...

Well said. Thank you!

chitogr54 said...

I agree with you! Parents, and even their friends and neighbors, think disparagingly about daycare centers. They are unaware that daycare center education has grown in leaps and bounds. I just read in this link- Daycare that the creative arts, including music, movement, dramatic play, puppetry, painting, sculpture, and drawing, are a crucial part of early childhood. Not only do the arts allow children to express themselves, but creative activity can enhance development of children's skills in literacy, science, math, social studies, and more.

Suzanne said...

Rock on!!! I worked in ECE policy for years and it kills me how crappy ECE professionals are treated. As much as we claim to value young children in the US, we sure don't act like it. Great post!

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