I’ve spent almost twenty years working in a professional capacity in the world of social and environmental justice. I’ve been a community organizer, directed a couple of small non-profits, and worked at a university coordinating an internship program and doing leadership training work. This doesn’t include all the years that I’ve spent working in a volunteer capacity while doing other jobs to pay my bills.
Next week I’ll be starting a new job. I’ll be an early childhood teacher in an infant/toddler classroom. I’ve worked in child care before. It’s been awhile though. I’m looking forward to doing this work again. I’m intrigued by the responses from friends about my career choice. It is important to know that the position that I’ll be taking next week is unusual among child care positions. It is well paid with benefits. In speaking of my new career, friends talk about it as something that I can do for a while or will be good until I decide what I want to do next. The words suggest that what I did before was important, was challenging, was valuable, and what I have chosen to do now is not.
I know that no harm is meant in their words, but they are merely reflecting how we, as a society, value child care. This is what disturbs me. There is no time in our lives in which we learn more than in those first three years. We come into the world tiny, unable to communicate beyond cries, and not capable of even raising our own heads. Within those first years we’ve learned to communicate, become mobile, started to establish the skills upon which we’ll build our academic life, and begun to grow our personalities and develop relationships. Even amongst those of us who consider ourselves progressive or well-educated we fall back to thinking about child care just as play and diaper changing and fail to recognize the importance of these actions and the thought and caring behind them for both the ones cared for and the care giver.
My own choice to return to child care as a career lies in large part in memories. I remember many of the children who I’ve cared for over the years. Each of the children has been a beautiful gift in my life. Sometimes the work is very tiring, but I realized as I considered teaching at an early childhood level again that I still loved each of these kids. There are few jobs that can give that joy. After years of becoming more burned out working in nonprofits and in the world of social and environmental justice, watching my health get worse and struggling with seizures, I thought a job that brings joy would be wise and perhaps healing. We need these things. We each bring something special to the world. We have something to give. When we can find our joy in our work whether that work be caring for children, organizing people, or doing any of a million other things from hauling garbage to designing computer programs we are able to give our best and to do so in a sustainable way.
The words of my friends and our system of pay both show our strange societal snobbery that make me question how we decide what’s really important in our lives in an every day sort of way. It seems my work was seen of value when I was part of programs that taught or led adults, but not those that teach babies. I wonder why that is? Aren’t our young as valuable as we are? What does this say about not just child care as a profession, but about parenting as well? Just my thoughts for the day. I would love to hear yours.