Business

‘More money would be good, but respect is what we really want’

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Despite the cost of day-care climbing above $200 a day at some centers, wages for early childhood teachers have stagnated at half the national average wage.

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“Why do you need a degree? My Mum didn’t have a degree.”

“Did they teach you how to finger paint at uni?”

Over 90 per cent of early childhood teachers (ECTs) are women. Some of us are mums. And all of us have heard the above bullsh*t. 

An emphasis on play-based learning has led to a widespread misunderstanding of what us ECTs actually do. In fact, a recent Productivity Commission revealed we were attacked for the emphasis we place on educator qualifications and the number of educators required for child-to-adult ratios. Once again, we were painted as 'glorified mothers' who have expensive degrees to wipe snot and change nappies.

I am an ETC at a small (56 places per day) day-care service in Sydney’s inner west. I love where I work and the community we have built. I feel valued as a teacher within our little bubble. Unfortunately, this does not extend to the way I am valued by the world beyond early childhood education and care. It is unfortunate that as ECTs we earn on average 30 per cent less than our primary or secondary counterparts, despite longer face-to-face hours and fewer holidays. I often wonder how our work would be interpreted if it was a profession dominated by men.

We earn on average 30 per cent less than our primary or secondary counterparts, despite longer face-to-face hours and fewer holidays.

There is no ‘normal’ day in the life of an ECT. Throughout the day we are observing the children, identifying interests, taking mental notes to write up later or planning experiences. Families often need to chat and pass over information like; “Jane had a disrupted sleep last night, she might need to go for nap a little early today” or “Ryan is wearing undies today. He started toilet training over the weekend.”

And yes, there are many disgusting and gross things that come with working with young children. Poo explosions and projectile vomit happen. I once had to go home and change because a little girl vomited in my lap and the vomit soaked through my jeans and wet my underwear. Young children are not very good at blowing their noses and are learning to wipe their bottoms. They are also developing their understanding of personal space. As a result we are exposed to every germ and bug under the sun. 

The National Quality Standards (NQS) tells us that all educators should be engaging in professional development. This is mostly paid for by our employers, but often takes place in our own time. I am lucky where I work that our boss will reimburse us for our extra time, or give a day in lieu, but I have heard that many educators do not get renumerated for time spent on professional development or even have to pay for it themselves! 

I often wonder how our work would be interpreted if it was a profession dominated by men.

It’s important to acknowledge that most of our job is building curriculum, guided by the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). More of our time is dedicated to this than people realise. If we are doing our job correctly, our service should look like a wonderful place for children to hang out and play. This is where we use our training and our knowledge on educational theory to create stimulating environments and experiences that promote play-based learning. We know that all humans (adults included) learn best through playful interactions. Play is learning!

There is a famous quote of teaching and learning “Nothing without JOY”. I can say there is not a single day working with children that I don’t laugh with my whole body. Working beside children allows us to see the world through their eyes and share their joy and wonder. We see our children as capable citizens and empower them to make positive change in their world.

While we continue to help raise these children to be the best they can be, it’s time the community started giving us the respect we deserve. Our jobs are important and they should be recognized that way

Insight wants to know what it’s really like for you at work. Do you work in a job that the public misunderstands? Is there something about your work that makes you want to blow the whistle? You can remain anonymous if you wish. Send an email to mystory@sbs.com.au