The other day, on a LinkedIn post, someone left this question in the comments: “Why do you need a four-year degree to be a babysitter?”
I realize I’m naïve, but it still stuns me that people continue to think of early childhood professionals as babysitters! It just goes to show how little the average person knows about child development. About the brain development that occurs in early childhood and the positive impact a quality teacher and developmentally appropriate practice can have on that brain development. About the social/emotional development so critical in early childhood and the positive impact a nurturing professional and a safe, friendly environment can have on it.
Not just anyone can provide children with what they need to blossom. I don’t necessarily believe a four-year degree is required. But it does take a real love and understanding of children, a respect for child development, and a knowledge of best practice.
I was a babysitter at 14. I had none of the knowledge that a qualified early childhood professional has, but I was a good babysitter. After all, it mostly required just being present.
That makes being an early childhood professional and being a babysitter two vastly different things! The big question is: How do we once-and-for-all get everyone else to understand that? Because until we do, you’ll continue to be mislabeled. That means you won’t receive the respect and support you – and the field – need. Not from society and not from policymakers.
As I mention in my latest course, “Become a Champion for Play & Joyful Learning,” you have one simple and significant tool in your arsenal: your own words. You must show respect for yourself by using the proper terms to define your work. You are a teacher or an educator or an early childhood professional. You provide childcare, not day care. (Nobody is taking care of days!)
Your stories offer another tool at your disposal. You need to let people know what’s involved in your work! You don’t have to get behind a podium or in someone’s face with a bullhorn. You just have to demonstrate your pride by talking about what you do to those who aren’t in the field. We all tend to believe we know what’s involved in certain jobs, but unless we’re in their shoes we can never fully know. I’m aware that my accountant, for example, does taxes. I can’t imagine what else her days might entail, but she’d have a good laugh if I or anyone else suggested that’s all she does.
Have you had a success story with a particular child? Share it! Have you faced a difficult challenge with a certain child? Share it! Have you witnessed a change in the children from when they first came to you? Share it! Each story will help your listeners better understand the work of an early childhood professional.
Here’s a suggestion from Ellen Drolette’s book, Overcoming Teacher Burnout in Early Childhood. She recommends saying something along the lines of this:
Did you know that 80% of brain development happens by age three and another 10% by age five? That means in the time young children spend with me, 90% of their brains have developed. I would think that is important work.”
You might find it surprising that a defense of the profession is included in a book about burnout. But in an interview I conducted for my course with Denisha Jones, Executive Director of Defending the Early Years, she contends that taking on the role of a champion sustains early childhood professionals. The reason? It empowers them! And empowerment leads to less chance of burning out.
Never doubt for a moment that a little empowerment is a good thing! My hope is that should you actually hear someone call you a babysitter, you’ll have the strength you need to tell them you are not a babysitter…and to tell them why!