Today I was running some errands in Mankato. As I was driving along Madison Avenue I felt a tightness form in my chest as I drove past Aldi. It’s the same feeling I get when I walk into Kwik Trip to purchase the 18 gallons of milk we go through weekly at Here We Grow. I can’t avoid it, it seems to follow me like the green eyes on the billboard in Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. As I drove past Aldi it took everything within me not to pull into the Aldi parking lot; the parking lot next to the sign that was rocking back and forth in the wind as it proudly announced “Now Hiring! Full-Time – Flexible Hours – $17-$22 an hour”. Part of me wanted to go inside and apply. At $22 an hour that’s an annual salary of $45,760, well above the poverty line and nearly double of what I can afford to pay my teachers; which is why what I secretly wanted to do was go rip down that sign so that no one could see it. I imagined myself grabbing it, wrestling it to the ground, and dragging it to the back of my vehicle like an alligator from the retention pond in a Floridian gated community, because the truth is… that sign scares the $#@! out of me. Every time I drive by that sign I have a minor panic attack as I envision one of my teachers from Here We Grow pulling into the Aldi parking lot; the parking lot that offers $17 – $22 an hour, more than I can afford to pay them and even worse… Aldi offers benefits, something I can only dream of one day being able to offer. It’s not really Aldi’s fault that they can afford more than I can, and I would never actually rip the sign out of their front lawn, but I hope and pray that someday I will be able to confidently drive past that sign or walk through the doors of Kwik Trip with their “Now Hiring – $17.50 per hour” advertisement and not have a minor (okay so once it was major – geez lady stop knocking I’ll be out of the bathroom in a minute can’t you hear my Darth Vador-like deep breathing exercises going on in here) panic attack. But until then…. it’s game on.
Last night, much to my printer’s dismay, I found a 229-page study entitled “Work-Related Stress and Mental Health of Child Care Center Workers”. Authored by Sarah Lietzow-Witherell in 2013 as her Dissertation at Wayne State University as a pre-requisite for her degree of Doctor of Philosophy, these pages hold everything for which I’ve been searching for years. But last night I finally found it… Google for the win. I’ve only begun to delve into its pages in-depth, but as I did my usual first skim I couldn’t help but stop and read parts of it fully as I came across the words I’ve always known to be true, not because I’ve seen them elsewhere, but because I’ve lived them. Here is a sampling of the world I know all too well (please ignore the atrocious citations, college is a distant 10 years behind me):
“Over one third of child care providers leave their jobs every year” – Whitebook, M (1999) Taking on turnover: An action guide for child care center teachers and directors.
“Child care workers are also given numerous and sometimes conflicting tasks to accomplish. These include fostering the cognitive, social, and language development of children in their care; ensuring the health and safety of themselves and children; and meeting expectations from their supervisors and the children’s parents, as well as from local and state licensing and accreditation agencies”. – Lietzow-Witherell (p.1)
“The (child care worker) literature presents a broad range of potential stressors that almost defy classification including both tangible stressors such as low pay and intangible risks such as being overwhelmed by too many tasks at once” – Lietzow-Witherell (p.4)
“A median annual income of $19,300 for child care workers”. – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012c
This is why I can barely stomach driving past Aldi; it’s metal sign taunting me in the wind. But this dissertation also repeatedly references another body of research regarding teacher’s wages. “Teacher wages are one the of the best predictors of classroom quality” (Phillips, Mekos, Scarr, McCartney, & Abbot-Shim, Within and Beyond the Classroom Door: Accessing Quality in Child Care Centers, 2000).
No additional comment necessary in that regard. Obviously, teachers are drawn to higher level wages, hence why the majority of licensed teachers elect to work in the public school. As a 1st year teacher in the Mankato Public School with a Bachelor’s Degree, the base salary is $40,352, with accrued sick leave, personal days, paid holidays, access to training, and let’s not forget having time for a break in the Summer, according to the MTA Master Agreement.
Now for the not so enjoyable portions discussed in the dissertation. Within the first 70 pages, again just by skimming, I counted no less than 5 references to the flak given to teachers in the child care field. Comments about how easy it must be to “babysit” all day, or how “it must be rough to have nothing to do while children nap for 2 hours”. According to Lietzow-Witherell, 63% of the respondents in her survey emphasized that they work as educators and should not be perceived as babysitters of children. However, 41% of the sample felt that most individuals, including the parents of the children in their care, did not understand how much work the caregivers performed daily in preparing materials, working on lesson plans, and nurturing and supporting the children. Oooooof. That’s hard to swallow.
So how did we get here and when will I stop dreading having to drive past Aldi? Whitebook writes in Childcare Workers: High Demands, Low Wages:
“In many states (in the early 1990’s), women on welfare were encouraged to become child care workers themselves, as this position afforded them the opportunity to obtain gainful employment in a field in which little training or education was required”.
This, combined with the demand for low-cost child care created an atmosphere that simply hasn’t changed in over 20 years.
… <enter Crickets> “chirp chirp, chirp chirp”……
“So…. Now what?”…..
So now what? Now, we fight.. no not literally (although somedays I feel a good ole pillow fight at the Capitol would do us all some good – ‘huy-ya’!). We fight by advocating, by taking action, by letting our voices be heard. This year the House of Representatives created the first ever Subcommittee on Child Care Access and Affordability, because low and behold we have a full-blown crisis on our hands, as referenced in the 2016 Article by the Minnesota Center for Rural Policy and Development (full article found here: http://www.ruralmn.org/a-quiet-crisis-minnesotas-child-care-shortage/). Combine that with a shortage of child care center licensors, an overwhelming load of licensing requirements, and a lack of technical assistance and viola perfection…. Perfection like the game Perfection when the timer goes off and all your pieces go flying. Before you know it Bobby’s screaming at Dad for taking too long for his turn while Grandma tries to calm the whole bunch down, meanwhile the baby’s sitting in the highchair waiting patiently for someone to notice that she has the yellow moon shaped piece in her mouth and is only a few seconds away from choking. That’s how I feel right now. We’re one step away from choking. If only every player at the table would sit down, gather the pieces, calmly sort them out, take the moon out of the baby’s mouth and put it back in its moon-shaped hole, take a deep breath and start over… it could all be near Perfection. The clock is ticking… pulsing… we can’t afford to wait until the timer goes off and the pieces fly….tick……tock……tick…..tock…..tick…tock…tick..tock..tick.to-