Here’s a secret about me: I’m a terrible liar. I smile like the biggest creeper when I’m lying. I once lost all my Christmas candy to my sister in Poker because I was the Worst. Bluffer. Ever. I think it’s because lying makes me extremely uncomfortable, which I guess is a good thing! So after trying my hand at lying and creeping people out, I’ve given up. Honesty is the best policy. Plus, I don’t scare people away with my lying smile.
So, when I was working as a daycare teacher and a mom asked me if I would eat the food our center served the kids, it was a really intense moment for me. At any job, you don’t dish all the dirt to your customers. There’s an etiquette and sometimes a contract. But there she was waiting for an answer. And there I was, feeling very restricted about what I could tell her. My honesty policy was between a rock and a hard place.
Before I had kids, I spent over a year as a daycare teacher in a higher quality center, one voted the best by the city. And what made that center the best was some amazing teachers, many of whom I’m still friends with today! They genuinely cared for the kids, went above and beyond expectations, and advocated for the students in their class. Any center is going to have some good mixed with some
not-so-good bad. My hope is to pull the curtain back and let you see what happens behind the scenes at a daycare center, so you’ll know what to look for and what to ask. This way you can be confident in your childcare choice.
Here are 6 things I wish I could have said as a daycare teacher:
- To answer that mom’s question about the food, I would eat very little. And now as a parent, I would pack my kids their own breakfasts, lunches, and snacks if they went there. All the food was heavily processed and the menu was quite deceiving. “Juicy Chicken Drummies” are not chicken drumsticks. It’s chicken nuggets shaped like a drumstick, and the second time they had chicken nuggets that week. All meals in the center had to abide by Federal Regulations, which deemed the iceberg lettuce on the tacos to be an acceptable vegetable (insert eye roll here). But what killed me the most was that all our snacks were some form of cracker, and we had to limit how much a kid could have–toddlers were allowed three saltine crackers.
- You might be paying out the wazoo for childcare, but your child’s teacher might not be getting paid as well as you think. To be licensed as a child care center teacher in MN, you “Must be at least 18 and meet one of 9 possible combined credential, education and experience requirements, such as a high school diploma with 4,160 hours experience as an assistant teacher and 24 quarter credits in a child care related field,” according to the State of Minnesota’s website. So, either work as an assistant for 2 years or have some college under your belt. Once licensed, a single teacher is responsible for either 4 infants, 7 toddlers, 10 preschoolers, or 15 school-aged children. I spent most of my career working with toddlers. First half of my year, it was just me and 7 toddlers. Second half of my year, I had an assistant teacher…and another 7 toddlers. That’s 2 adults and 14 toddlers. I worked from 2010-2011 and as a teacher, I made $11.50/hour. The center director made less than $15/hour. With absolutely no benefits. No PTO. No sick leave. No healthcare. No paid holidays. Nothing.
- Sometimes the center’s policies (often regulated by the federal government) can be frustrating as a parent. I once had to have a parent either come pick-up their child or come clip their child’s fingernails immediately. Teachers hate making those phone calls because we know it’s frustrating for you, as the parent. But please remember, it’s not the teacher making up these rules. Talk to the center director, center owner, or government if you’re frustrated with the policies. Also understand that things happen with 2 adults and 14 toddlers (or 2 adults and 20 preschoolers) in a classroom. We do NOT have eyes on your child all the time. One teacher may be pulling a kid off of another in one corner of a room, while another is changing a poopy diaper, and in that moment, your child may get bit, hit with a toy, trip and fall, etc. It happens and it does not mean your teachers aren’t being attentive. In my experience, that ratio is BANANAS, at least at the toddler level.
- Tissues. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I hated the tissues. Come winter, every kid had a runny nose. I could spend the whole day wiping noses, literally. By the time I had wiped 7 toddler noses, the first kid’s nose was running again. The tissues were cheap and felt like sandpaper, so those little noses start to get raw from all the wiping and they would cry. I started bringing in my own box of tissues to use for the kids.
- Toys and books get worn out so fast! Anything remotely cheap or breakable has a lifespan of about 30 seconds. But daycare centers are required to have a certain amount of toys, certain types of toys, as well as a certain number of books. The center I worked at the toys and books were restocked when the state came around and inspected everything. I’m not sure where the toys came from, but the books were from Goodwill. I have no problem with Goodwill, but in our toddler room we received lots of paper books, many of which were NOT age appropriate because that’s what Goodwill had. And because they were paper, they would be torn up and destroyed in three seconds. So again, I started bringing my own books in to read for Circle Time.
- The center I worked at had their teachers work four 10-hour days, with one day off each week. They also had one Float Teacher who also worked four 10-hour days, but would rotate between the classrooms filling in on the days the regular teacher had off. Although we were paid for 40 hours, we were often scheduled for more, but forced to take longer breaks in order to avoid paying us overtime. Mandatory meetings were scheduled during holidays when the center would be closed for a day (a day parents still paid for, but teachers were not) to avoid paying staff any overtime.
PHEW! Happy to have that all out in the open now! Daycare centers are not bad, but those are good things to be aware of. Now if you want a little advice…
- Build a relationship with the teacher (or any childcare provider). When your child falls and gets hurt, they come crying to us for a hug and kiss. When they don’t feel good, they come to us for a snuggle. When they’re being silly, they look to our faces for a laugh. Your child’s protector, defender, and advocate is that teacher. And when you’re not there, they’re helping raise your child, too. So, don’t feel embarrassed or crazy going over-the-top to get to know them. In my year at the daycare, only one mom requested to interview me before placing her child in my class. I wasn’t annoyed by her, I was impressed because employees at the daycare come and go pretty frequently. The center just needs people that qualify, but parents believe they’re also quality. There is a big difference. In my year, I saw (and reported) some ugly stuff happening to kids and babies. And I also saw those same people get loved on by the parents because they had NO IDEA what the teacher was really like. Which brings me to my next point…
- Watch the video monitors. Get there early for pick-up and watch the monitors, not for a minute or two, but plop your butt down and watch. But also understand this–when the center director sees you pull up in the parking lot, they make a quick call to your kid’s teacher giving them a heads up, so “quick wipe their nose, change their diaper, etc.” So, your honest look may not be as honest as you think.
- How do you know if your child is in a healthy situation? A good indicator is the level of excitement your child has when they see their teacher or if they talk about him/her at home. Ask about their background–if they’ve spent time babysitting, volunteering in a church nursery, or have taken child-related classes. Another good indicator is if the teacher is a mom. I had an AMAZING assistant teacher, who was also a young mom. Even though I was the teacher with the education and qualifications, my assistant had a better understanding and more patience than I did. Some parents recognized how valuable her insight was, having a child the same age as theirs. And some just looked down on her for having a child the same age as theirs. Overall, with any daycare situation, be slow to judge, thorough in interviews/observations, and don’t be naïve!
We absolutely love our childcare center and educational sponsors! Those that we partner with are fantastic businesses and we support them without hesitation. The center referenced in this post is not one that we partner with.
Original post published February 2016
You have written all of the above so wonderfully Kim. I have recently started dropping off my kid to a daycare and I can already FEEL the difficulties faced by all those caregivers who greet me with the sweetest smiles ever!
You have provided some really great advice in your article which I am going to try following esp the getting to know your kid’s caregiver part. We as parents experience a significant blow on our pockets while paying for childcare so we also tend to demand commensurate quality of care for our kid. But I sincerely thank you for throwing some light on the predicaments of the teachers!
Your honest insights are truly helpful!
It is interesting that you point out that the policies of the center, which are frequently governed by the federal government, can be annoying at times. My sister wants to enroll her child in daycare. I’ll advise her to review the federal government’s regulations on policies to make sure she knows what to anticipate.