Burnout and turnover in childcare classrooms
It is an unfortunate fact that educator burnout is the norm in childcare. Some might even see burnout as an occupational hazard, part and parcel of the job.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether you are an in-home childcare provider, an educator, a director, or an assistant, it takes a special kind of person to pursue a career in early childhood. To be successful, you will need a lot of patience, love, solid communication skills, an organized mind, boundless energy, strength, and soul. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. The history of early childhood education explains many of the influences that have shaped the field of early childhood education into what it is today.
Amidst early education receiving a lot of press and public attention, the field is going through a labor crisis. A lot of teachers are leaving the field because they are burning out. In the 2020-2021 Child Care Benchmark Report, childcare business owners identified labor as the #2 organizational risk. This, coupled with the rising demand for childcare is creating a tough situation for business owners, educators, parents, and especially the children involved.
As attitudes towards the relationship between millennial parents, career, and family change, early childhood professionals are positioned to become a key support system for the backbone of our economy. So, let’s tackle this issue of burnout in the field, shall we?
Reasons behind educator burnout
Teaching preschool is much more than just showing up to look after children. Educators wear many hats in their roles: guardian, friend, first responder, counselor, cook, janitor, entertainer, mediator, and the list goes on. All while making sure that the children under their care are safe and happy. Here are some reasons why burnout is so common in childcare.
Lack of training and support
Childcare professionals come from all different educational backgrounds. From high school to post-graduate degrees, the level of experience varies from educator to educator. This, coupled with the requirements that come, can put pressure on educators and administrators to perform in a role without the necessary knowledge of best practices.
Between transitions, different shifts, a hasty lunch, talking to parents, putting out fires and making sure children are safe and happy, it is a lot to squeeze into training. That’s a lot of responsibility to have on one plate!
This brings us to the topic of support. Early childhood educators are often siloed in their classrooms and don’t always have the strongest support system, be it within the center or externally. When your team is constantly on the go and overworked, morale can take a hit across the board and cause burnout.
Preschool educators tend to be nurturing people
There is definitely a personality profile that excels in the role of a preschool educator. Someone who is nurturing has a huge heart and is always there for their families.
For better or for worse, this personality type can sometimes be the main contributor to burnout. Educators that are so keen to please and help the families that they serve often forget to prioritize their own work-life balance.
Anyone who works in a childcare setting will tell you that being sick all the time is pretty standard. Substitute educators are difficult to schedule and the hassle of catching up is often seen as not worth it. The longer educators push themselves to be available for their families, the more ill they become. This can turn into a toxic cycle that is not sustainable for their physical and mental wellbeing.
Underappreciation and self-worth
Early childhood professionals are relationship-driven people. I mean, the job requires a whole lot of heart! Despite that, it is one of the most underappreciated and undervalued professions by society.
Negativity often comes from many sources:
- Friends/family: “Oh, being a preschool teacher isn’t a real job”
- Parents: “It’s just glorified babysitting”
- The general public: “How hard is it to play with kids all day”
- Yourself: “I guess I am just a preschool educator”
This incorrect association of value and identity not only contributes to a feeling of apathy at work, it also impacts the way in which educators view themselves. That, on top of pay that doesn’t correlate to the hours and effort required for the job, is why it isn’t a stretch to see educators leaving the profession in droves. The importance of early childhood educators cannot be disregarded.
In fact, our Childcare Benchmark Survey found that the average educator salary is just $27,156 USD, down 5% from the previous year.
Despite wearing personal protective equipment and doing regular cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting, working as an educator during a pandemic does still pose some health risks. In combination with the other burnout factors, this can result in a very anxious emotional state for educators. Staying healthy in childcare is important.
How to avoid burnout in childcare
Now that we’ve covered some key contributors to educator burnout, let’s discuss some strategies to prevent and minimize this. In the long run, a healthy and high-functioning team means a more sustainable business with minimal employee turnover, better quality care, and a workplace that’s more fun!
Build a culture that raises people up
Given that childcare is a field that is underappreciated, shifting your perspective makes a world of a difference. Think of your center in the frame of a family and take pride in your team and the families you serve. A simple “great job” goes a long way in making someone feel acknowledged for their hard work.
This doesn’t have to fall solely on the shoulders of leadership either! Every single person on the team has the capacity to shout a team member out, support a colleague who might be struggling with something and even mentor each other. An engaged team will organically raise the quality of your center and become more established in the community.
Get organized and communicate expectations
Childcare administration and leadership can have a huge impact on this front. A simple way to combat burnout is to provide tools to optimize time management and make tasks easier. If you have a team that works really hard already, set boundaries for your staff to make sure that balance becomes a priority. Communicate expectations clearly and stick to them.
Some of these things can be:
- Setting clear shift times
- Using technology for paperwork
- Staffing classes in pairs / small teams
- Creating a mentorship program
- Showcasing your educators’ work to parents
By having clear expectations, educators will be able to take guilt-free breaks and maintain some balance while on the job. A mentorship program will help with training on the job, and having set career tracks will also help you build a team structure that has growth potential and pushes your staff to value their work. This is also a great way to retain top talent at your center.
Invest in your team
Continuous professional development is key to staying up to date with the various licensing requirements and trends in the field. Reinvesting into your workforce will translate to an increase in quality across the board and yield returns both monetarily and from a morale perspective.
If staffing is an issue for this, schedule designated professional development days during the school year so that your team can focus on them. Make sure that parents are aware of your commitment to improving the service that you’re providing them and it is a win-win for everyone!
See more up-to-date insights on the state of child care in the 2020-2021 Child Care Benchmark Report!
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