Childcare is a systemic problem.
But so is giving a shit about teachers.
I started writing this after reading Anne Helen Petersen’s amazing Vox article on early childhood education. Go read it. It’s worth it. She also writes a newsletter called Culture Study that you should definitely subscribe to in thanks for this rant.
The way that child care is broken is a warning sign of what our K-12 public education could be.
Right now, we have a public school system that works—if you’re in the right town with the right funding and the right kind of support systems. But if we continue to chip away at the public support through exclusive charter schools, voucher systems, and the countless other ways that people attempt to “protect” their children from children of other races and socioeconomic backgrounds, the public school system will crumble under its own weight.
I know it sounds alarmist, but the K-12 initiatives that get rolled out year after year like increased testing, more teacher oversight, new standards and objectives to post on the board all cost money. That money often goes to private companies entrusted with improving the educational outcomes but who also worry about bolstering their bottom lines.
And what these initiatives don’t do is put more money into the pockets of teachers, who buy supplies for their classrooms out of their own money or resort to crowdfunding to buy sets of books for their kids. They don’t improve the school lunch program that so many children rely on for two of their three meals five days a week. They often don’t even improve the educational outcomes for the students, because teachers are too busy doing administrative tasks, playing psychologist to the kids who so sorely need it, and filling out paperwork to prove that they’re teaching to actually teach in the ways that they know will improve outcomes.
Teaching is emotionally difficult
I was a high school English teacher for 6.5 years. When I was 15 I knew that I wanted to be a teacher—partially because I had some fantastic teachers that made me love literature, and partially because I had some awful teachers that made me know I could do better.
What was so disheartening for me about being a teacher is that I cared. I cared a lot. I cried many days on the way to school, during school, after school because I cared more about these kids than they cared about themselves, or their parents cared about my ability to teach them, or even members of the administration cared about my ability to teach these kids. I eventually quit teaching because I was exhausted. I had no more fucks to give, because I had spent all of them on the kids, and it felt like no one cared.
Sure, my fellow teachers cared, but they were going through the exact same thing. My friends cared, but they didn’t know what to do with my complaining. My partner cared, but he was more worried about my emotional well-being than anything. People would tell me to leave school at school, but I couldn’t leave the feeling that I was trying harder than I ever had in my life and failing over and over, every single day.
Strangers or acquaintances thought it was nice that I was a teacher, but they would focus on the wrong thing in conversation:
“Oh, I bet it’s nice to have the summers off,” they say.
Sure, if you like getting a summer retail job like a teenager just to pay your student loans.
“Oh, I bet you have some great stories,” they say.
Sure, if you like hearing about kids that were too young to have experienced the traumas they have.
“Oh, but snow days!” they say.
Sure, if you like grading at home instead of at school.
What all these comments don’t say is, “Thank you for getting underpaid to ensure the future of the country.” or “Thank you for caring about the kids enough to attempt to teach them to have emotional control.” or “You know, your job is hard enough. We should really outlaw AR-15s so the kids didn’t have to worry about school shootings or lockdowns or...” (lol I shouldn’t have brought that up because that’s a whole different wasps nest I could go on and on about).
What can we do about it?
Anne Helen Petersen’s Vox article, “One weird trick to fix our broken child care system,” makes a very similar point to what I’m about to make here: that the way we fix our child care system is through cultural shift where we somehow give a shit about the people who care for our children every day.
You know how folks in business show someone they appreciate their work? They give them a raise. And then repeat that raise every year. They throw in a bonus for good work or going above and beyond expectations.
If they’re lucky, a teacher will receive a seniority raise based on the number of years taught and a cost of living raise every year. But some districts, like my hometown of Nashville, TN, don’t make enough room in the budget for teacher raises every year—even when the state has a huge budget surplus.
Why? Because at the end of the day, the work that teachers do is not valued. Teachers aren’t held in high esteem. Parents often look down on teachers. I’ve had parents tell me they can do my job better than I could (then why don’t you homeschool your child? Or, you know, teach? Money? Oh, ha.).
The lack of respect for teachers is why we don’t pay teachers, why we don’t fund education, why the public school system is on the brink of collapse, and why I’m so angry about the state of early child education.