The reality of being an educator during the pandemic
I am an early childhood educator because I am passionate about supporting young children in finding and expressing their voice, discovering their strengths and developing a passion for life.
The pandemic has not changed these motives for me but it has changed the approach to the work I care so deeply about.
The last few months have been the most difficult I have experienced since being in the sector. With an overwhelming amount of cleaning, relentless attempts at social distancing and a lingering energy of fear and apprehension, I feel exhausted, frustrated and completely overwhelmed at times. My colleagues and I all try to remain positive and shift the conversation about something other than case numbers, restrictions or vaccinations but, it isn’t always easy. My colleague recently said at a staff meeting,
“I think we need to acknowledge how hard this has been for us”.
The pandemic has enhanced and added to the complexity of our work and compromised our wellbeing in many different ways.
Firstly, to say that wearing a mask for 8 hours a day with eighteen four year old children is uncomfortable, would be an understatement. Working with children requires constant dialogue. Not only does it become hot and stuffy, but it compromises the volume of your voice. Everything sounds muffled which means we have to strain our voices even when speaking to someone in close proximity.
Wearing a mask over our face and being vigilant about social distancing, also means that we cannot approach and respond to children and situations in effective ways. Because children cannot comprehend our facial expressions to pair it with our tone of voice – they are losing the ability to predict, empathise and learn. Our natural responses to conflict, injury or vulnerability now feels cold, robotic and unfeeling. Building and maintaining trusting relationships with children must be done in a way that executes compassion with our whole being but it seems we have been robbed of that. It’s very disconnecting and makes our job a lot more draining.
Although children are skillful at bringing us into the present moment, there are some days that I just do not have the energy to experience joy with them.
Secondly, our relationships with families have been significantly impacted. Parents cannot come into the service anymore and must stand two meters back from the gate to wave goodbye to their children from afar. (This is especially harder when children are experiencing separation anxiety).
At the end of the day it was always great to be able to catch up with parents to tell them about their child’s progress, challenges and experiences. Now, we are made to have distance which makes our relationships feel so impersonal. The warmth and connection that took so long to establish at the beginning of the year is fading.
Lastly, the pandemic has emphasised the lack of respect and consideration that the early childhood sector receives but are most worthy of. Another colleague of mine said “We work day in and day out putting ourselves at risk because we care about what we do. It hurts to see the government not care about early childhood educators.”
Since the beginning, job keeper was not accessible to most of us, many educators were being stood down, ‘free child care’ meant that most centres’ were at a further financial loss and up until now, there was absolutely no priority for us to receive the vaccine.
Early childhood educators are front line essential workers who work long hours with little respect, little rights and little pay. I wish that the lack of acknowledgment didn’t make us feel like it takes away the value of what we do because we all know deep down how imperative our job is to our societies and our future.
We certainly do not do this job to be recognised as heroes but I think it is time that we are. We do what we do because we aspire to see the children before us experience an extraordinary childhood and life and put ourselves at risk because of it.
Educators – praise yourself for the commendable work you do. Our societies, communities and economies would not be able to function and evolve to the level they do without us.
I know this isn’t always easy and, although I am an advocate for health and wellbeing I am letting you know that you are allowed to have your bad days. This is what makes you human. You are allowed to feel hopelessness, anger and apathy because circumstances warrant this. But PLEASE remember the gravity of the work you do and how many people’s lives you are positively impacting by choosing to do what you do.
Most importantly, remember that you are worth taking care of. We need you to be strong. You cannot give others what you do not give yourself. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercise and good nutrition. Surround yourself with passionate educators, support and uplift one another, be actively involved in our union that is always fighting for us and remember to embrace all the things in life that make you feel good.
You have been the backbone to our countries survival over the past 18 months. Find a way to congratulate yourself and the educators that have worked alongside you. You deserve more than a pat on the back.
This piece was prepared by Alana Evans, Early childhood teacher, Founder & Director of Belong Be Become and has been reshared on The Sector with author permissions.