I was visiting with a friend recently about adjusting our meeting format at preschool to draw out everyone into the conversation, instead of having management (me) talking “at” everyone the entire time.
My well-meaning friend replied, “You worry about all of this too much. It’s just a job for them.”
This led me to question whether or not this friend had been listening to a word out of my mouth for the past five years or so. I wonder this from a very loving and openly communicative place.
I think that the idea of someone employed in early childhood education as having “just a job” is a terrifying concept. I picture a dirty facility, unskilled and uncaring workers, massive turnover, and disorganization of planned activities. A puppy mill, child care style.
Any time we seek employment, we select an environment to spend approximately 2080 hours in each year. Regardless of where we are working, on average we spend more waking hours with our coworkers than with our families.
For owners/directors/managers We have several steps we can take to ensure our centers are not filled with people looking for a job. I don’t mean everyone there has to be invested in the thirty year employment plan (let’s face it, that’s rarely the case anymore). Many people will apply with the misconception that they are applying for a “job.”
- Amp up your interview process. Trending in business right now is cultivating purposeful employees. One simple way to do this is adding questions to your interviews such as, “What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow?” and “When was the last time you were so caught up in an activity you lost track of time?” This can give valuable insight into whether an individual is driven by purpose or benefits.
- Don’t have your staff check their talents, abilities, and intelligence at the door. If you ignore the resources your staff brings to the table you are missing the chance to make your program even better.
- Set up a system to connect one-on-one with everyone at least once a week This system will give you great insight into how everyone is functioning as a team. You will be able to address little issues before they become big ones.
- Listen more than you talk (this is a problem for me, see above) Even if you are an in-home family day care you need the perspective of your registered helper. Listening openly will help staff feel supported. If they come to you with a question, many times just voicing it aloud will enable them to produce their own solution without you “telling” them what to do. This empowers them as a valuable member of the team.
- Help develop and mentor staff to enable them to accomplish THEIR goals Staff will always have work specific goals. It is a good idea to discuss what their other professional goals are, and to help them develop the skills to meet those as well. If they feel their manager is invested in them, they will be more invested in their manager.
For staff members Maybe you are a seasoned professional dedicated to early childhood education as your career. Perhaps you are a college student working in early childhood education to get your feet wet as you pursue an elementary education degree. There are “just a job” barriers that you can break down too.
- Seasoned professionals, avoid being a know it all. You can have such an impact on someone new to the field to guide them toward or away from being an early childhood educator. A lot of people start out wanting to be a nurse and hate it once they do it. The same is true for teachers. Don’t be the reason someone with potential decided to quit.
- Elementary education degree students, don’t be condescending. You have shown a dedication to education through time and money to pursue a degree. If you are working in an early childhood education center, remember that there may be people there who have been teaching for twenty plus years. Time and time again I have heard university students start a sentence, “When I become a real teacher…” This statement is erroneous, because even if you are an assistant, a floater, or an aid, your students are under the impression that you are a “real teacher.”
- Temporary, seasonal, teenage workers, and substitutes be professional and invested. Many people take on support positions, temporary positions, etc in child care simply because they like kids. Even if working with children isn’t your ultimate career goal it is important to arrive with dedication each day. You can be professional by dressing the part, monitoring your speech, and receiving more training in interacting with students. You can remain invested by getting to know your coworkers, giving ideas and feedback on the classroom, and sharing your goals for the future.
For community members I encourage you to examine how you feel about early childhood education. Are there ways you can support the positive advocacy, or are there constructive ways you can bring out the shortcomings to help foster change?
- For those with a negative feeling about early childhood education, look for evidence that does not support your bias. I have always been one to look at all sides before making a decision. If you have had horrible experiences, look for evidence to support the opposite. How can you be an advocate for positivity? If the negative aspects are overwhelming, take action to bring the issues to light and encourage productive change.
- For those with great experiences with early childhood education, shout it from the rooftops! Studies have shown that humans are more apt to focus on the negative then on the positive. If we have a bad experience we are generally very vocal, whereas if we have a great one we tend to keep it to ourselves. If you have had a great experience, tell friends, coworkers, and post it online! (This would be a great place, I’d love to hear about wonderful things going on!)
Aforementioned friend told me that she recently applied for a position with a mid-sized small business (non child care) in our area (approximately 50 employees). She said that they prefaced their interview with, “…all of that stuff you’re always talking about, staff meetings, one-on-ones, open communication, managers being invested in staff and staff being invested in the company. I just wanted to apply for a job in the kitchen, apparently this is a “thing” now.”
Yes, it is a “thing”now, and one which needs to extend into the world of early childhood education.
Please share your thoughts in the comment area!
What are your thoughts on early childhood education being “just a job?”
Have you ever been employed anywhere that you felt you were supposed to “check your brain at the door?”
Additional ideas, thoughts, and conversation are always welcome!