If it’s not too traumatizing for you, imagine it’s Monday. It comes time to transition out of a free play session and into a meal or outdoor play and you realize the classroom has just disintegrated into a disaster. Sure, you might think to yourself, “wow, I probably should have stayed on top of this!” but it’s Monday. It’s your free-pass, right? You instruct children that it’s time to clean up and you can tell from the second those words pass your lips; they’re not having any of that nonsense. Clean up? What a foreign concept! Why? What’s wrong with it like this?
It feels like an impasse, but eventually you see that there’s really just a fork in the road. There are two paths for you: accept your fate, proceed with the transition anyway and return to the classroom later to be the ideal mitigating force that makes conscious choices to curb the amount of mess that winds up everywhere in the midst of play (by periodically moving items children are no longer playing with)—or—stand your ground and demand that the group clean their mess, even if it were to take an hour, or even two. For some people, it’s really hard to accept that the former is ideal. You could rationalize the latter pretty easily with your adult brain: “I didn’t make the mess, so I shouldn’t have to clean it up—that’s not my job!”
I’m here to tell you: it is your job.
When I give my speaking engagements and trainings, often times I present my audience with a list of critical affirmations we as educators must believe in in order to be most effective in this job, and as healthy and positive a force for the young people who look to us for protection and guidance as we possibly can be. Today, I’ll focus on three good affirmations:
Everything that transpires or could possibly transpire in a classroom is part of the job. See, most of us have easily accepted that poop and vomit is part of the job we signed up for, but for some reason very few of us have accepted things that I personally find far less horrifying: loud noises, big messes, children who question authority, being a cook, being a janitor, being a caregiver.
If I could count the number of times I’ve been involved in a scenario in the classroom, or walked in to work for the day to find myself thrust into a scenario where I feel like the world stops, the camera zooms in on my face and I say “I didn’t sign up for this,” I’d have tally marks tattooed to my back as a reminder that I am a damn saint.
One day, as children were running around in circles throughout the hallways of my first program, after I had just finished helping a child calm himself out of a situation where he lost control of his body, I played the part of the embattled, worn, broken teacher as I approached my co-teacher, as if I’d just been through the trenches. As I was just about to complain about how difficult that was, the group of running children ran past us and one of them separated from the group to bend down in front of us and pick something up. He said, “I didn’t know we had brown play-dough!”
Now, if you’ve ever worked in a child-care program, you probably know what happens next. If you haven’t, here’s a hint: We didn’t have any brown play-dough.
Phantom poop showing up out of nowhere on the floor, a child picking it up, and the ensuing chaos is not in the job description, sure. But if it happens, it’s still part of the job. But sometimes our issues are more than with the children—we become frustrated with our coworkers.
I am the only person I can control. Openers and closers in a childcare classroom or center are the unsung heroes of the profession. Their job, though the same as any other teacher or educator in the program, has a more janitorial aspect. There are more chores, and despite being more chores, still have all the same expectations of the average daytime teacher. That’s an unfortunate reality that can’t exactly be changed except to lighten their load by requesting daytime teachers or teachers who leave later in the day pick up some of those chores. Even so, the sources of messes and unpredictability remain in the care of openers and closers while they’re tasked with these chores.
Still, cleaning is part of their job, too. Yes, it’s unfortunate because for some of us it’s not the most fun job. No, it’s not exactly fair that you have to clean messes that you likely didn’t make, or that other teachers throughout the day could have cleaned themselves. At the (literal) end of the day, though, it’s the job you’re expected to do, and that falls on your shoulders if it doesn’t get done, no matter how much you think simply not doing it falls on the people you feel should have done it in the first place.
I’m a big fan of confronting the people you have a problem with yourself. This idea that we must bring it to a boss’s attention for them to handle is so backwards it hurts. Nothing creates a more hostile environment for a teacher than a manager approaching them to tell them their co-teacher has an issue with something they do. Don’t like that Jim didn’t pick up dinosaurs? Tell him that it disadvantaged you and come up with a solution together. Don’t like that someone keeps forgetting to replace toilet paper? Approach people face to face to remind them. Telling a manager and their ensuing indictment of everyone on an even scale is belittling and demeaning to everyone in the long-run. In addition, voicing your issues with the people you feel trigger them will create a more accountable environment, where people will understand the implications of their behavior firsthand, which is important, because…
How I behave impacts everyone. This one’s a little harder to disambiguate because if you get it, you get it. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. It requires a great deal of empathy, which the world of time-outs, detentions, suspensions, shaming, and the refusal of body autonomy to children tried to strip of all of us growing up. If you’re finding it difficult to be empathic in this job, perhaps this isn’t the career for you—and that’s okay. Coming to that realization is part of recognizing your impact and making a choice that ensures your presence has a positive impact on everyone, children and adults, even if that means your choice is no longer being there.
This job is exciting. This job is diverse. This job is complex. This job is deep. This job is dynamic. This job is anything but expectable or mundane, so the idea that we would think we know what’s going on or that we’ve figured it all out for half a second should be alien—a foreign concept. We’re helping children build themselves from the ground up. Our energy should enrich the atmosphere of the environment, and that includes expecting the unexpected—accepting that it’s part of the job.
Our posts are created by several early childhood professionals. Most stories will include the author's name and a link to their "About Me" or the program they own or represent.