What about wellbeing? A perspective from a “career changed” ECT

by Melina Byrne

July 21, 2020

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.

The wellbeing and mental health of educators is a concern for the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector constantly, with these concerns heightened by a tumultuous year of pandemic and policy change. 

 

Recently discussion has taken place within the broader sector about what measures are appropriate in showing appreciation for the complex work undertaken by educators and leaders, and about who holds responsibility for safeguarding this wellbeing. 

 

In this piece, former journalist and copywriter Melina Byrne responds with her thoughts on wellbeing, as one who has transitioned from one career to another, becoming an early childhood teacher (ECT) in 2015.

 

The recent article “Cupcakes and thank-you cards: what is true wellbeing for educators?” struck a chord with me.  It made me reflect on my current career as an ECT and my background as a journalist and copywriter.

 

When I tell people that I am a preschool teacher, I usually hear “your job must be fun”. I am always shocked to hear that. I reply that this is the hardest job I have ever had. There are so many important responsibilities when you work with children. 

 

In my previous roles, I was not responsible for administering emergency first aid, attending to children having seizures, or managing anyone with concussion. I wasn’t charged with shaping and guiding a young mind, or supporting a family dealing with a new diagnosis. I didn’t have responsibility for making sure a child was ready to take the next steps in their learning journey, and I didn’t end every day with a tired yet inspired mind, body or spirit. 

 

Throughout my 15-year career spent working in offices, I do not remember wellbeing being discussed by management once. It is a different story in the early childhood profession – wellbeing and mental health are discussed almost daily – my workplace has a buddy system which sees colleagues check in with one another about their wellbeing. 

 

My workplace also supports the educators by offering access to professional development courses such as the ‘Wellbeing Matters’ webinars by Early Childhood Australia. Our staff room features gratitude boards with thank-you cards and yes, sometimes there are cupcakes… But wellbeing can extend out, and become bigger than that. 

 

My former employer took the whole team – 60+ employees – to a five-star hotel for a buffet to say thank you. I have also seen a long daycare centre promoting “Wellbeing Wednesday” for educators as an ongoing project. These initiatives are a good step forward.

 

The wellbeing initiatives are also being implemented into the children’s educational programs with yoga, meditation and physical fitness problems being included regularly, supporting children to understand from a very young age the importance of balancing mind, body and spirit. 

   

Wellbeing has always been important to me. My path to wellbeing is through exercise, (mostly) healthy eating and getting enough sleep. Work/life balance is vital too. 

 

When I began working in a long day care centre, I found myself thinking too much about my job; I was always looking for new educational activities or shopping for resources for the centre in my spare time. I needed to find a way to stop thinking about work. When I started boxing lessons, my wellbeing improved. Hitting a punching bag is a great way to get frustrations out, and when you are sparring with a boxing partner, you are so focused, you get lost in the activity.

 

The cupcakes article debates the bigger picture issues within the sector, such as the low rates of pay for educators. I sincerely hope that the COVID-19 pandemic helps to raise the profile of educators as essential workers, and helps people to realise the complexities of our roles. 

 

Like nursing, another feminised sector which has long rallied for better pay and conditions, I hope that the focus on educators, and our vital role in society helps to drive change and improve things for everyone in the sector, myself included. 

 

I hope that people stop saying to me “your job must be fun”. I hope they start saying “your job sounds challenging – you have such a powerful impact on the children you teach. We should pay you more.”

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