This is one of a series of blogs featuring first-person accounts from early educators across Massachusetts.
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My name is Brittany McGovern.
I have been working in the field of early education and care for half my life. During my first couple of years in the field, I was finishing high school. As a senior in high school, I was granted the opportunity to intern in the Head Start preschool classroom that was located in my school. The position turned into a year-long one, and this opportunity convinced me that I was destined to teach.
I recently switched places of employment, leaving a wonderful mom-and-pop childcare center that I love. I had seen this center when it was an unfinished shell of a building, and I’ve watched it grow into a fully constructed center with a waiting list for children who want to enroll.
I currently work in an infant/toddler classroom, where part of our funding comes from Early Head Start. The reason I had to change jobs was purely financial. I needed to earn more money.
What is important about my work is that I am able to provide a loving, safe environment in which children can play and, in turn, learn. This anonymous quote perhaps best expresses my passion for teaching: “One hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”
As an educator, I am most proud of the time that I was able to build a trusting relationship with a mother (whom I will refer to as Danae), and in turn was able to have her child evaluated and receive the services that he so desperately needed. This child who I will refer to as “Johnny” had several red flags that pointed to his being autistic. Prior to the mother enrolling him at the center I worked at, he had been cared for by family, in multiple centers, and he had been to multiple pediatricians–all of whom voiced their concerns to her and shared the reasons he should be evaluated. As soon as this was brought up she would pull him from the center or doctor’s office.
The child had been at the center for a couple of months prior to me coming on board. My director said my first task was to get through to this little boy’s mother so that he could be evaluated. I clicked with his mother and built a relationship immediately. I remember the phone conversation like it was yesterday. I opened it up by exploring her thoughts about me (disclosure: I have a learning disability) and then bringing in attributes her son and I shared. After doing this, I asked her, “Do you think I have a disability?” She stated, “Not at all.” I told her that I do, and it is called a non-verbal learning disorder and it is on the Autism spectrum.
Danae and I both started to choke up. I shared a little bit more about my journey and how I wished I had services when I was young. We both continued to fight back tears. I said, “I just don’t want another child to have to go through the pain I did if they can simply get evaluated and have necessary supports put in place.” Not even an hour after hanging up the phone with Danae, there was a knock on the classroom door…it was Danae in tears asking what she needed to do next and thanking me for taking the time to talk with her. This was approximately five years ago, and I still keep in touch with this family today.
I am very lucky in a couple ways. First, I actually knew what I wanted to do when I graduated high school, and second my family was able to put me through five years at Wheelock College. It took me an extra year to finish my bachelors because of my learning disability, which required me to take a lighter course load in order to be successful. When I was attending Wheelock, I recall my professors talking about how early education and care was going to change, and everyone would have to have a bachelor’s degree by 2010, but we were lucky because we already had a bachelors. I think it is beneficial to everyone that the field is becoming more professionalized, and early childcare teachers are being held more accountable, however, I in light of the additional requirements, those teachers, including myself, need to receive appropriate compensation.
In terms of professional development, I do it because I have to, but I try to find free ones because I have to pay for them out of my own pocket.
I don’t get to claim things I purchase for the classroom on my taxes. Nor do I get any of the teacher discounts that stores offer. We deserve to get the same benefits as public school teachers do, including tax deductions on classroom supplies, retirement funds, union organization, health insurance, and paid vacation time. We also deserve to get paid a wage that’s commensurate with our education and experience—and that’s on par with the pay of public school teachers.
While I am excited about the changes in this field in the last few years, I believe we have a long way to go before early childhood teachers receive the benefits they deserve.