Corporate Educational Structures Don't Just Turn Children into Numbers, They Turn Teachers into Hypocrites
I'm back! It's been a while since I've written here, as I've been swamped and going one hundred miles per hour with the new center, but I did feel it to be incredibly important to write about something I've been thinking about over the past few weeks: childcare is not an office job.
So often, we want to structure the way our programs work as employers in the way other professional employers--even schools--do. We want there to be a clear and definite hierarchy, each having its own rights, purposes, and duties. We want there to be a centralized location where questions, complaints, and conversations can happen, perhaps in part to take that load off of others' shoulders, but more likely so that nobody says "the wrong thing".
I don't know about any other states' environmental norms in the childcare field, but I can tell you that it's not uncommon for large childcare programs in my state to be hostile work environments, sometimes due to unkind or overstressed administrators, but more commonly due to conflict amongst teachers.
Prior to starting my own program, I had worked at only one center where I wasn't constantly getting complained to about how horrible this job is, how horrible the kids are, how horrible that teacher in the next room is. It was like high school. The complaining and badmouthing would fester and fester, reach a boiling point, and that's when someone would go to the administrator to file a complaint about the person they didn't like.
For instance, I started in a program where I was asked to overhaul disciplinary practices. Everything was going extremely well. I was having a blast, my coworkers were kind and receptive, and the parents were seeing positive changes in the dynamic of the classroom. This was fantastic, until one day, the director sat me down and said, "Look, [other 4-5's teacher from a different room] is upset because you've changed so much in your room and she feels like you're changing too much because your classes are doing completely different things every day". I was dumbfounded. Not that this was a ridiculous thing to be upset about (because it was ridiculous), and not because it was outrageous that my director was humoring it (because it was outrageous)--I was dumbfounded because I couldn't have just been told, in person, by the person who had the problem with me.
Good practice in child development revolves around trusting children--that they can solve their own problems or know how to get the right tools to solve their own problems. To me, that also means that if a child comes to me to "tattle" on another child, I say, "do you have the right words to talk to her about it?" rather than jumping in and fixing the problem. It just hurts that often times, we as adults can't meet that expectation ourselves.
Part of it has to do with having these corporate structures and hierarchies. We're so afraid of conflict that we think having a human resources person means the issue can be brought out before it becomes a conflict. I believe, however, that once there is an issue, it is a conflict, and only the people experiencing the issue or are impacted personally by the issue should be on a quest to resolve it. Nothing is more frustrating than being "told on". Nothing makes a conflict more severe than being "told on". Being complained about to an administrative body only serves to contribute to a hostile work environment. I can promise you no misunderstandings, general disliking someone, or heated conflicts have really been resolved by bringing the boss into the equation. Perhaps calmed, perhaps thrown into a resentful silent treatment, but never resolution.
So how do we solve conflicts with our coworkers? Well, we can model what we want to see children do. If someone is complaining about their job and their complaining is annoying you, use your words! "If you have an issue with your job description, I would really like you to talk to administration, not me." If someone is telling embarrassing stories about the teacher down the hall? "I would really prefer you not talk about my coworkers like that, it's disrespectful." If someone is taking too long of a break? "Hey, your break went over its time today." Sure it might be awkward right then and there, but I can promise you it's only going to be 100 times more awkward if your boss has to tell the other teacher that you have a problem with them.
Also? If you're going to be the complaining type, just save the complaining about your job, coworkers, or administrators for sometime other than the time you're supposed to be caring for children. They don't need to be there for that. However, if you're in the room with someone who does choose to complain, you have the responsibility of modeling to the children that that behavior isn't healthy, right, or conducive to a positive environment by requesting that it stop, because simply nodding and throwing in a "wow" or "okay" here and there is the kindling that keeps that fire going. Enabling bad behavior is a bad behavior, right?
Use your words!
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.