Early childhood educators angered over unfair treatment during COVID-19

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Source: Gautam Arora/Unsplash

I am an early childhood educator and I am angry. In fact, I am seething with rage and I am not alone. 

I am furious with the treatment of our sector over the past 18 months and want to share with you what it’s like to work in a role that is grossly underpaid, undervalued and consistently treated as an afterthought. 

When we entered the first lockdown in 2020, most of the population diligently locked themselves away behind closed doors. Schools closed to students other than those who could not be at home, remote working and learning began, those people felt safer. 

Early childhood educators did not feel safer. 

There was no talk of shutting our doors. “Children just don’t get COVID,” was a daily mantra we had to stomach from people who had no more than a month’s data up their sleeve upon which to back up their claims. 

Early childhood educators carried on because to stay at home was to let down children, along with the families we work with and wider society. The unspoken mantra was “Others before self”.  

It was our “very important job” to support essential workers. 

It was our “very important job” to comfort the parents who cried and shared their fears with us. 

It was our “very important job” to calm down children who were anxious because of the stress that surrounded them. 

It was our “very important job” to cover up how terrified we were, to wear a friendly smile and get on with it. 

In that first lockdown, services were thrown a lifeline in the form of government subsidies and JobKeeper payments. The anxiety of losing our jobs and income decreased, but it did not take away the unease of working in an environment that was ever-changing, unfamiliar and left us exposed. 

Every. Single. Day. 

During that first lockdown, I would come through the door of my house after work and head straight for the shower like Meryl Streep from Silkwood to scrub myself free of any imagined COVID germ that might have attached itself to me during the day. My ‘bubble’ — and I use that term lightly — consisted of other educators, parents, and children. My ‘bubble’ wasn’t small; it was extensive. In fact, it was more like a hot air balloon that exposed my own family.

Every. Single. Day. 

Every night when I watched the news, like everyone, I cheered on the ‘essential’ workers — health workers, teachers, supermarket workers… but early childhood educators rarely got a mention. 

You might ask why getting a mention or being classed as an essential worker matters, but it really does. 

It matters because we weren’t considered essential and as a result weren’t given priority places to get vaccines. Remember: ‘Children don’t get COVID!’… and here we are in exactly the same boat, 18 months later, whilst the Delta variant swirls around us, and our society cocoons itself again. 

At the time of writing, we have 700 cases of children under the age of nine with COVID-19 and our “very important” early childhood educators are on the frontline again. This time, more people continue to send their children into care than before because the memory of trying to get through remote learning and working is still a horrifyingly fresh one that is alive and well in the minds of every traumatised parent. This means unvaccinated educators are now even more exposed than before.  

Every. Single. Day. 

Please don’t misunderstand me, early childhood educators empathise greatly with parents and are deeply grateful for other essential workers who put themselves on the line each day too. But, equally, we are sick to death of not being recognised and being actively undervalued, underpaid and overworked.  

Some of my closest friends are educators and I see the work and extra hours they put in. They go above and beyond. For their efforts, some of them get paid $23 an hour. Let that sink in a moment. 

A recent report by the United Workers Union, surveyed 4,000 educators. 73% of them said that they were going to leave the industry in the next three years. 49% said they thought about leaving ‘all of the time’ or ‘most of the time’. We are sick and tired of being told how valuable our contribution is to the future of education and work in Australia, and yet we do not see that value realised in any tangible way.  

Make no mistake, the early childhood education sector is in crisis — it’s inevitably what happens when you consistently undervalue hardworking professionals. 

Every. Single. Day. 

*Bridgit is an early childhood educator based in Sydney. While her identity is known to Women’s Agenda, she wishes to remain anonymous. This article was first published by Women’s Agenda

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Partner of an Early childhood teacher
Partner of an Early childhood teacher
28 days ago

And lets add to this the Victorian government backflips – We are in lockdown, curfews but if you have one essential worker permit for a parent you can send your kids to child care even if the other parent is home. In many cases if the child was 1 year older and at school they would have to stay home.

This leads to, why does Victoria treat early childhood teachers differently to school teachers? They have the same qualification, they are just teaching a different aged child. The answer is politics.