A few years ago, Karen Castro was making $16 an hour working as a teaching assistant in a Spanish immersion preschool in San Francisco. On the side, she helped out with after school programs for second- and third-graders to make ends meet. Karen was working incredibly hard, but she still wasn’t earning enough money to feel stable.
After getting married and having her first child, the financial strain became unbearable and Karen began looking for other career options. Even with a college education, coursework in child development, and four years of teaching experience under her belt, she felt she needed to look for positions in fields outside of early education. She heard from friends that they were making a better living working as nannies.
“Nannying for 2-4 children seemed way easier than working with 30 kids at a time,” she said.
As a nanny, she could still pursue her love of working with children while making more than double what she was making before.
“I was making $30/hour caring for two children from different families as a nanny share. It was more than what I was making caring for more than 30 kids each day at the school. So I nannied for two years,” she said.
Karen’s example highlights an underlying issue: quality and passionate teachers are leaving the classroom due to burnout and salaries that are too low to support their own families. Here at Wonderschool, we address this problem by bringing the classroom to their homes.
Defining the problem: Teacher burnout
It’s no secret that finding quality early child care is a huge challenge for parents. A major contributor to the lack of quality options is a phenomenon known as preschool teacher burnout. Quality educators are leaving the workforce due to financial strain, as well as being overworked and feeling under-respected. Some early childhood educators even struggle to afford to send their own children to preschool on their preschool teacher salaries.
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the annual turnover rate is over 30% for early childhood professionals. The average annual salary is $22,930 for childcare workers and $33,300 for preschool teachers in the US (United States Department of Labor, 2016), even though they have more education and training than other jobs of similar wages.
High preschool teacher turnover has negative effects for everyone. Teachers who become nannies may feel professionally dissatisfied. These are educators who, like Karen, have years of training and experience in the classroom, and who may not feel like they are using their skills in the same way that they would be in the classroom setting.
“What I missed the most about being in a classroom was having a routine and being in a classroom that I designed,” Karen said. “For me, working with a larger group of children is more fulfilling. I get a feeling of having more success working with a bigger group. Plus, I get the opportunity to design my own program and teaching philosophy. Building a community of parents who trust me is a great thing.”
When preschool teachers leave the classroom, we as a society lose out on the potential impact these teachers could have had on countless students.
High turnover rates in early education have been associated with insecure attachment in child relationships with caregivers (including parents) that could lead to behavioral problems as well as lower social, emotional, and language development in children.
Children in nanny or nanny shares may not be experiencing the same high levels of socialization and environmental enrichment that they would receive in a group or school setting.
An opportunity for change
One solution to combating preschool teacher burnout is to advocate for higher salaries and better work conditions for our preschool teachers.
At the same time, we can invest in family child cares, where preschool teachers run their own small preschool or child care programs out of their homes.
Family child care programs have much lower overhead costs than do preschool or child care centers. This means higher salaries for educators. In-home teachers can care for their own children in their program, eliminating the need to pay for an external preschool. Plus, this allows them to spend more time with their kids.
This past year, Karen discovered Wonderschool, which helps educators and caregivers start their own family child care programs out of their homes.
“I found Wonderschool through Facebook and I thought, Huh, this seems great. I see all the help they provide, and it was an immediate click for me. I found I could do what I love– teaching Spanish and being a teacher, all while maintaining my passion for working with children–without sacrificing the money,” she said.
Karen is excited to have recently opened her own in-home Spanish-immersion preschool and child care called Retoños Schoolhouse with help from Wonderschool. She already has eight children enrolled in her school, using various schedules from part-time to full time, and several other interested families. Karen can have up to six children in her care each day, plus two school-aged children. She has a teaching assistant as well to help out and keep child-to-provider ratios low.
Karen believes we can improve this situation for teachers, families, and society as a whole starting with acknowledging the value of the work early educators do:
“Don’t take the profession for granted. It’s a really important role in a community. Preschool teachers are helping to raise the generation of the future.”