To The Early Childhood Educators: You're So Much More Than 'Essential'
To the ones who love and have loved my children (and your children too),
“Essential workers” is what they call you now. In the spring of this year, the world shut down, but you kept going. And suddenly the world seemed to finally notice the “essential”-ness of you. Articles were written about the overlooked work of an early childhood educator. People began posting about how little support you receive, and the sick irony of it all. Suddenly the world seemed to notice you. Like it’s some sort of revelation. Like you haven’t been essential all along. It irritated me. “How are people just now getting it?” I thought.
And then I had my own realization. I didn’t get it either.
Until I had children, I had no clue how “essential” you were. Had this pandemic happened ten years ago, I would have been one of them. One of the people whose eyes were suddenly opened. I may have had some vague, surface knowledge of the importance of those first years of life, but I didn’t really understand. Nor did I really care to. I didn’t need to know. Or at least that’s what I thought.
I should have cared. We all should. I know that now. The statistics around the effects of quality early childhood education on our society as a whole are staggering. This isn’t just a parenting issue. It’s an everyone issue.
Obviously, you’re essential.
The truth is, you are more than essential. You are not just “essential workers.” You are not just educators either. You are life-changers, people-shapers, future-influencers. These years are the shaping years. This is when little brains are growing and developing and forming. This is when the molding takes place, and you are in the thick of it. They may not remember you when they’re twenty (they probably will though), but who they are has more to do with you than they will ever know. Their moments with you, under your care, your guidance, have shaped who they will become.
You do it all. You sing, you read, you sit on the floor and play. You change diapers, you feed, you clean messy little hands. You tie shoes, you kiss boo boos, you brush hair, you pat sleepy backs. There are letters of the week and numbers of the day and messy crafts and outdoor play. You clean up messes and clean them again and teach them to help and to “do-it-yourself.” You make funny faces and sing silly songs. Over and over and over again. You wear funny outfits and put things on your head. You light up when you see them, and it nurtures their soul. You listen to them and laugh with them and you make them feel seen.
These are the things. The everyday things. These are the things that will shape who they are.
And now you do more. You take temperatures. You look for symptoms. You screen. You worry. Even more than before. You risk your own health so that my child can be cared for. You wash, and wash, and wash some more. You cover your face. And yet they still see you. Still, they know. They see it in your eyes.
I hand you my child. The love of my life. I trust you with this, my most precious little soul. And then I come to see that she trusts you too. With you, she is loved. She is safe. She is respected. You teach her and guide her. You hold her hand and hug her tight when I can’t.
I am her home. But so are you.
A gift for which you cannot aptly be thanked.
The value of your work can’t be described with “essential.” No, it’s much more than that. But until I can find the right words to express it, I’ll keep preaching about the essential, and keep thanking my lucky stars that you chose this line of work even before it was touted as so.
From myself and every grateful parent, thank you.
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