It is hard to believe we have been living with the Covid-19 pandemic for well over a year now.
The world has certainly changed for early childhood educators in many ways. Parents have gained a new perspective on what early childhood educators mean to their families and the early education sector has differing opinions on how things have been handled throughout this unprecedented time.
We recently spoke with eight notable contributors to the early childhood field to find out what they think about these issues and about the ways that ECEs have or have not been prioritized in the U.S. and Canada throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The contributors are:
- Belinda Costin, Early Childhood Consultant – Toledo, Ohio
- Stephanie Gomes, Founder of Play to Grow – Mississauga, Ontario
- Janet Foster, Professor at Fanshsawe College – London, Ontario
- Amanda Munday, CEO at The Workaround – Toronto, Ontario
- Sara Gilliam, Editor-in-Chief at Exchange Magazine – Hamilton, Ontario
- Jan Blaxall, RECE – London, Ontario
- Stacey Band, Parent Coach, Educator, Founder – Chevy Chase, Maryland
- JaneAnn Benson, Lead Coach – Grand Rapids, Michigan
Has the government supported the early childhood sector enough?
Six of our contributors do not believe the government has adequately supported the early childhood sector.
“(I have typed and re-typed my answer several times because I keep making it political and I do not mean to do that. Or do I?),” Belinda confesses. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Children do not have voices that carry and do not make money. Educators are so busy in the classroom; it is hard for them to take the time to advocate for themselves, their profession, and their children. Government is there to bail out big industries like the auto industry, Wall Street, and the airlines. These groups employ a lot of people, pay big taxes, and get money flowing into the economy. Childcare and early education do not have influence, do not make big money and the influence we have on the economy is in the future. It is neither current nor tangible. It is hard for government to support what is not real, relevant, and right now.”
Amanda thinks, “child care workers have been largely left out of the pandemic. They have been working the entire time with no breaks, many are underpaid, wage subsidies do not cover their full salary, and emergency relief benefits do not cover their entire salary. PPE in a lot of the grants The Workaround applied for does not cover gloves and masks. We need paid sick leave. Educators in not-for-profit and for-profit childcare centres do not have mandated sick leave. If there is an exposure educators are out for days to get tested and for quarantine and also being stressed out about Covid. So sick leave doesn’t cover supply or their salary. There are so many challenges with the pandemic funding.”
“Currently there has been support financially. However, the concern is long term,” JaneAnn says.
Jan reflects, “prior to Covid, there was inadequate commitment and funding of the Early Learning foundation provided by early childhood educators, based on a belief that young children have the same right as age 6 and up, to a well-funded and research-based daily educational experience. Instead, the focus is on childcare as a parental and societal need to support working parents. This has resulted in wages, based on a child-minding service rather than an education for a generation of children. This has been demoralizing for ECEs. Once combined with the fear of covid exposure and the increased stress, ECEs are leaving their jobs in record numbers.”
Do you think parents’ perspectives have changed towards early childhood educators?
Every contributor agreed that parents’ perspectives towards early childhood educators have changed since the start of the pandemic.
Sara thinks that “many parents, who were suddenly stuck at home for months with their children–often while also holding down jobs outside the home or working from home–realized how incredibly hard early childhood educators work. Many frontline workers were only able to keep working because family childcare programs, centers, and preschools kept their doors opening. Teachers showed up for families every day, and that has created a new sense of awe and respect for those who care for our youngest children.”
Stacey states that “parents realized the depth needs their children have and many felt the ‘whole child’ was not having their needs met by only remaining at home.”
Belinda says, “we cared for, fed, and educated children while they were at work. During those hours, they did not have to worry about what they will eat for lunch or snack, where they will be after school and how they will get their homework completed (if school agers). For children ages three to five, they did not realize that we prepared them on so many levels for Kindergarten and for success in school. For infants and toddlers, wow! I do not know how parents kept a job if they also had to care for, feed, change, entertain their infants and toddlers all day. I think there is a deeper respect now.”
Jann adds that parents now have an “increased awareness of their dependence on child care for their needs, and their children’s needs.”
Do you think educators were made a priority during the vaccine rollout?
Seven out of eight of our contributors do not think educators were made a priority during the vaccine rollout.
“In our state [Michigan] they were in the same category as teachers. High priority,” JaneAnn explains.
Janet states, “RECEs should have been vaccinated at the beginning. If you are going to deem them as an essential service, then treat them as one.”
Stephanie explains, “ECEs had to advocate for themselves before the government would even consider making them eligible. Although they have been working the entire time with unmasked children, they still were given eligibility AFTER many people who even have been working from home.”
Do you think that the early education sector will be changed in the future?
Every contributor agrees that the early childhood sector has been changed due to the pandemic.
“First, we must rebuild,” explains Sara. “Programs have had to cut enrollment or close their doors due to the pandemic. Without significant and thoughtful investment in our field, we will not be able to rebuild meaningfully, in order to serve future generations of children with high quality early childhood education. We must also commit to recognizing, in an ongoing manner, the importance of early childhood professionals to our communities. This includes advocating for equitable wages for educators, supporting teachers-in-training, and making sure that working families can continue to access high quality care for their children.”
Janet thinks that “COVID has shown society once again that this is not just a ‘families’ or feminist issue. Childcare goes beyond the family as it is needed for our economy to prosper.”
Amanda reflects, “the future of child care is dependent on the provinces acknowledging how parents work. Most not-for-profit licensed child care are Monday to Friday 9am-5pm which doesn’t reflect all working parents especially coming out if the pandemic. Childcare does not meet those demands. I hope provinces recognize that flexible child care and alternate arrangements are needed but not sure how long it’ll take.”
Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of educators?
Each of the contributors agree that educators’ mental health has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Belinda exclaims, “oh my goodness!!! Teachers in childcare in Ohio were expected to work during the pandemic without being made a priority for the vaccine. Many teachers… Infants, Toddlers, Preschool, Elementary, High School, do it because they care for children and want to make a difference. Watching children struggle through a screen and not being able to help them… Torture. Seeing them at a grocery store running up to you and not being able to hug them… Torture! Seeing them face-to-face in a classroom, but fearing for your life or the life of aged parents or compromised spouses who you live with at home… Torture! I have no research, but I would think there are very few teachers in any part of the Infant to High school education profession who cannot have been affected emotionally in some way during this pandemic.”
“They are being asked to work harder than ever, to put their own personal safety on the line, to create and innovate at every turn,” explains Sara. “Many in our community of early childhood professionals are lifelong learners and innovators by nature, but the pandemic has been relentless. Meantime, we’re asking teachers to teach over video, despite everything they may have learned about children and screens–and despite everything they know to be true about authentic communication with children. We are asking them to create and maintain relationships from afar. These are not small asks. And, around the world, educators have stepped up time and again.”
Stephanie adds, “they’re burnt out, overworked, underpaid, confused with what’s going on. Policies and expectations are changing daily with no real guidance on how to navigate the changes which makes it very difficult.”
JaneAnn states, “staff have been meeting the needs of families and children during a highly stressful time. They are fatigued and stressed.”
It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has forever altered the early education sector. A benefit we have seen is that parents have a fresh perspective and a realization that quality childcare is of the utmost importance. Perhaps early childhood educators will no longer be seen as “babysitters” but will be given the credit that is due. This is contradictory, however, in that some educators have not felt supported by government programs and did not feel prioritized during the vaccine roll out. Early childhood educators are feeling burnt out and concerned about what the future holds and we can hope that the government will step up and begin to see early childhood educators as the essential service that they are.