Saturday, December 01, 2007

It takes a village...

Hey everyone. It's me. It's been almost an entire semester since I've written, and it is nice to just be writing whatever pops into my head. These last few months have been so hectic and yet uneventful at the same time. I've been taking two amazing Women's Studies classes that have deepened my (ahem! already broad and informed!) understanding and awareness of the world. I have as yet been completely unlucky in the search for a entry level, modestly paying full time gig, although I have landed a substitute teaching gig at a local preschool.

I've been doing it for the last two months and am dedicated to branch out into temping. The politics and petty unprofessionalism of many employees of said preschool is too much for me. These individuals seem to care more about their alliances than the children, more about their outfits than giving the kids attention and more about controlling the children than teaching them. So many times during my break I have wished for a computer handy so that I could document all the jumbled thoughts running through my head. In my classes, I've been learning all about the nature of gender segregated work and the fact that most jobs in America, over 80%, are predominantly one gender or the other. Of those gendered occupations, jobs that care for, serve or nurture others are the least valued, the least paid and often the least trained. Unfortunately, childcare often falls into that category.

Everyday, I see in real life what the studies and readings from my Gender in Everyday Life and the Evolution of Black Feminist Thought discuss. I feel like I'm watching a sociological study unfold in front of me. The women who teach at the school are mostly women of color and most have only their high school educations. They aren't qualified, aren't salaried, don't have contracts and don't know much about child development. The not being salaried and not having contracts isn't their fault, it's the fault of a system that doesn't regard childcare and education a priority. As a result, they aren't paid well, don't have much job security and are often in these paid positions because they have no training and can't do anything else. Since they are paid so poorly, they can't pay for classes to get certified and trained either.

The preschool/childcare center caters to mostly economically disadvantaged families. As a result, the center gets money from the state to cover many children, and the center is often cash strapped. These children are the ones who would benefit the most from trained, skilled, qualified teachers who know how to teach pre-literacy skills and how to recognize learning disabilities and speech problems. The teachers come out of pocket to buy almost all of their supplies for their classrooms and activities. These children would benefit most from state of the art facilities where all their senses were constantly engaged, where computer use was daily for each child, along with intensive vocabulary and individual reading time. The state of CT is very progressive compared to most other states in terms of defraying childcare costs and legally requiring the safety, health and facilities available to all the state's children. It has declared that by 2020, all childcare workers will be qualified in early care and education and early childhood development. Unfortunately, that doesn't immediately help any of these aforementioned teachers who are not certified or academically trained.

My mother, on the other hand, is a childcare professional, with two decades of experience, fully qualified and a degree in early childhood development under her belt. She loves children, all children, and is amazing at interacting with, teaching and challenging them. She teaches at this preschool, and is constantly pushing everything forward with her work and example. I watch all the children at the preschool lean to her, like small flower buds leaning toward sunlight, because she gets on their level, interacts with them, talks to them, sings with them, plays with them, comforts them, and is always thinking of new ways to show them new things. Many of the other teachers, none of whom are qualified, resent my mother's skill, training, innovative ideas, creativity and sheer love of the children. They watch her, in turns amused and annoyed, as she chases the children on the playground, engaging with them, interacting with them and validating them. Around her, they feel safe, loved, and challenged. She finds ways to teach them about everything in a fun science-focused way that turns even seemingly mundane task into a new discovery. Those other teachers are right to feel insecure, she's amazing at what she does.

Yesterday afternoon I got to cover the afternoon shift with the two year olds classroom, where I had spent a week subbing. I got a chance to run, play, sing, and dance with the kids, and they were GLOWING. We ran around outside in the playground for 15 minutes, just going in circles, chasing each other and laughing. I was elated to get to spend so much joyful time with them. I sang a welcome song with them, sitting on the ground so that I was at eye level with them, and we sang it in different voices, at the suggestion of one of the children. All eight children clamored around, sticking their hands out to shake mine, taking turns and suggesting which of their friends should get a turn next. They were so excited! It was nice weather outside, so we stayed out for an entire half an hour, instead of going in early like we normally do. The kids couldn't get enough. It was beautiful, getting to interact with them, watching their eyes light up, having them sing along and participate 100% in the song "If you're happy and you know it," do the Hokey Pokey, sing "Five little ducks" and then want to chase and be chased for 15 minutes. These are two year olds and almost two year olds; 15 minutes of anything is a big undertaking for them. I just wanted to hug and tickle them, shower them with all the love and energy I had. I enjoyed it so much because there was nothing but the children to occupy my attention. Just their little, new lives in a big world that they haven't discovered yet.

These kids have two teachers who never play with them, certainly don't run around with them, and don't even hug them. (One teacher tells the children not to hug her so as not to ruin her clothes.)

When we finally went inside, they had to sit and watch Barney. Not nearly as exciting as running around outside, but you can't really replace the big purple dinosaur. He's their sacred cow. I made a point to tell the parents how much fun we had playing outside, and the parents were almost as excited as the children. "Got a chance to get some exercise today for a change, huh? That's great!" one parent responded.

Don't get me wrong; it's not a bad center. But it is not a great center, with the exception of my magnificent mom. It could be so much better. I have enjoyed the children I have gotten to know, marveled at the things I have been able to teach them, lamented if they regress, celebrate as they learn and grow each day, and loved all of them. It's amazing how developed and solid the personality of a child can be, only having been in the world for a series of months. They are little people, with their own tastes, likes/dislikes, moods and joys. The things they notice, pick up and know- it is just a wonder to behold. I guess parents feel like that as they watch their children grow. But I think teachers get the best opportunity to witness these changes, eccentricities and developments. I am proud to say that I got to be a small part of the village actively raising this community's children; they're beautiful.

Having been through this experience, I am reminded of the world I want to see. I want to be part of a world where the village it takes to raise our children is a well funded, well paid, well trained, adequately qualified, universally insured, loving village where our children are our biggest priority.

What about you?

1 comment:

Passionista said...

I think we all want the perfect village for our children but often times the reality is that we only rely on ourselves to provide it for them. This works well in theory, however how many times have parents tried to balance work and childcare? It's not a possibility, unfortunately, for everyone to nurture their children the way they deserve. What is a sad truth is that our society does not value the importance of not raising children, raising adults because that is what is involved and what is a stake. I hope for a better future, but until then I will create what I can for the next generation.