Tuesday, May 5, 2020

What about the children?

I am an Early Childhood Educator. I have been teaching our young children for almost the entirety of my adult life. I am passionate about my vocation, and I honestly never thought that I would see the day that I would consider quitting my job...but that day has come.
Like many others, I have been out of work since mid-March. It hasn't been easy. I've struggled with trying to find my purpose throughout this pandemic. I've spent many nights lying awake wondering what our leaders are going to do to make it safe enough for me and my peers to return to caring for children so their parents can return to their jobs. I have found myself riddled with anxiety, which is a new experience for me. I have listened to my peers all across the country and the world express the same concerns that fill my thoughts day and night. Our fears and concerns have been met with silence.
I have read the recommendations of our government. I have watched, listened to, and read news reports. I haven't seen or heard a single person in a position of power address the fact that our early childhood education system is in crisis. Childcare centers across the globe have had to close their doors, and many of them will never be able to reopen them again. Those who are fortunate enough to remain in this country are mostly hanging on by a thread. The reality is that as our cities and states "reopen" there will not be enough care for our children.
Everywhere you go you hear people wondering when the schools will be open again for our K-12 students, but nobody seems to be asking about our youngest children- the children who will absorb the biggest impact from this health crisis we are all facing.
I live in Maine, and our state is slowly beginning to relax our Stay Safer at Home orders. This means that the school that I work at is planning to reopen on June 1. We have worked to make our building and our practices as safe as we possibly can with the little guidance our government has provided to us. It is not enough! It is not realistic to expect small children to remain 6 feet apart from their friends. It is not possible for me to properly care for an infant without putting myself at risk. We are being asked to act as front line workers so that our economy can survive the pandemic, but we are not being recognized or respected as front line workers. We do not have proper PPE to protect ourselves. We do not have funding to stay afloat as we have to adjust our class sizes in order to maintain distancing standards. What we do have is people who are so passionate about our field that we are willing to risk our own well-being in order to protect our greatest assets.
Our industry has been overlooked and underappreciated for far too long. It was difficult to find people willing to accept the realities of working in this field BEFORE the pandemic. The majority of people in my profession are not even earning a living wage, and now we are being asked to accept the burden of getting back to work to help save our economy without any assistance or acknowledgment. This is unacceptable.
It is our duty to protect our children. They need us and they cannot speak for themselves. I would love to get back to doing my job. I miss spending my days caring for our youngest citizens. I miss seeing their beautiful smiles and listening to their laughter. I miss watching them achieve new milestones. I want to be back in my classroom. BUT I can't do my job if I don't feel safe. I can't go to work every day wondering if I am putting the lives of my family members in danger by doing my job. I can't focus on giving the loving care an infant deserves when I have lost my nonverbal communication skills due to the mask I have to wear to protect myself. I can't be present when I am feeling anxious about the fact that my own child is stuck at home without any social interaction.
These are all issues that need to, and should have been addressed before anyone decided it was time to start "reopening", yet here we are. It's not good enough! We need to do better. We need to demand that our leaders do better.
Please help me make our voices heard. Use #ECEmatters to join the movement and help get the attention to this cause that our children deserve.