As a skilled industry, we are used to putting other children’s needs above our own. Please know that we see this as a part of the job – caring for little people, often at cost to ourselves.
We put our health on the line every day; going home with other people’s boogers, wee and blood on our clothes and in our hair. It’s part of the job (and it’s the reason we plead with you all, year after year, to keep your sick kids at home). It’s weird for us – this virus doesn’t feel too different to normal practice for us. We wash our hands, wear gloves, clean every toy/surface/child’s face a million times a day, shower as soon as we get home, and so on. Again, it’s just part of the job; even if this job only pays its workers $20 an hour.
What is different now is the word 'essential’. Suddenly our workforce of sick, exhausted, overworked educators who never get school holidays and turn up to work through blood, sweat and tears (literally) are deemed providers of an 'essential service'.
Oddly enough, this acknowledgement has little to do with the actual work we do; the relationships we form with families, our deep knowledge of childhood development, our passion for ensuring that all children grow up with an equal chance of a positive future. This acknowledgement from the Prime Minister doesn’t mention how the work we do increases each child’s chance of growing up to be more happy, healthy, educated and employable. We’re an essential service for simply turning up; carrying on our work when other industries cannot. And of course, we are essential. We’ve always known it, and we also know that we’re essential in so many more ways than most would care to admit.
With the ever-increasing risk of this virus, we’re being encouraged to social distance. Social distancing just doesn’t seem to work when you’re in a room of 16 children and each of them needs a hug, a tissue, or a nappy change. Social distancing is not a choice for us. Washing our hands can only do so much to keep us safe.
Despite all this, we’re still there. Still putting your children’s needs above our own. Still risking our health to ensure that many of you can go about your daily life. So, policy makers, parents and allies; your early childhood educators are, in some ways, on the front line of this. We are exposed in a way many are not (we always are when it comes to illness) and believe me – your love, support and thanks is appreciated, but your acknowledgement of us as essential is both obvious and long overdue. We need more. More recognition and acknowledgement, yes, but more pay for the work we (love) doing.