From left to right: Emily Holden, Leonora Dodge, Dawn Irwin, Rep. Karen Dolan, Rep. Alyssa Black, and Sen. Thomas Chittenden
“There are times we should be quiet.
There are days for letting go.
But when matters seem important–
Let others know.
With so many ways to speak up, like a sign, a smile, a shout…
If we could make things better,
Why not let our words come out?”
–From the book, Speak Up, written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Ebony Glenn
Early childhood educators everywhere are undervalued, under appreciated, and underpaid. For many people with supportive families and partners, it is a privilege to be able to afford to work in this profession. I was introduced to the advocacy side of this profession in my first job in the field and it has been present at every single center I've worked in since then. The fight for respect societally, politically, and financially has been long, hard, and ceases to end despite the perseverance and exhaustive effort of the majority of folks who work in the field begging for change.
The problem in all of this is a greater, systemic issue that many people don’t understand and it’s impacting both those who need childcare and those who work in childcare. We teachers participate in rallies like the one that takes place at Early Childhood Day at the Legislator, engage in hours-long zoom meetings and conversations with legislators and state representatives, write letters, make phone calls, post on social media, donate, display signs of support on our lawns, pins, and clothing. We do everything we can to make sure our voices are heard and it sometimes still feels like it is not enough.
The state provided centers and schools with an application for retention bonuses, with the hope that a payment of $1,000 or less could inspire educators to remain in a field that is disastrously understaffed and losing teachers left and right. This was incredible news until we learned that the schools that can afford to be open with no room for extra spending had to front the money to be reimbursed by the state later on. This was earth shattering and angering and wrong. It was like dangling a treat in front of a dog on a treadmill– the treat IS there, but it is inaccessible to most.
After some processing and release of frustration, our teaching team wondered if there was anything we could do to change this, making bonuses more accessible so we could access the funds without a detrimental financial impact on our small, woman-owned school. After all, we spend our days with vulnerable children teaching them that their voices matter, deserve to be heard, and that speaking up in times of adversity is crucial to making life and the world a better place.
In an effort to show our children a real life example of advocacy, we invited a group of State representative candidates and legislators into our school to meet with the teachers, families, and to see the magic that happens in our center first hand. Representatives Alyssa Black, Tanya Vyhovsky, Karen Dolan, Senator Thomas Chittenden, and legislative candidates Leonora Dodge and Infinite Culceasure joined us on a Monday afternoon and listened to people from our Wonder community describe the challenges that both the families and those that provide the care face. For the first time in a while, we felt seen and heard. We described to them the dilemma of the stipulations around the bonus funding and most of them hadn’t heard the details about how inaccessible it was until we told them.
Following the visit, my co-teacher and friend, Dominique Collins, boldly and bravely reached out to the Seven Days. Shortly thereafter, she and the director and owner of Growing With Wonder, Dawn Irwin, were interviewed about retention bonuses, exposing the inaccessible nature of it to the public. They shared the struggles that the teaching team faces individually and as a whole and an article was posted later that day.
20 hours after the article was published, the state revised the process and made it more accessible to those who apply, providing the funding for the bonuses upfront, no longer requiring businesses to front the money until they could be reimbursed.
We got news of this while we were in our outdoor classroom, surrounded by muddy and playful children. Being the people we are, we jumped and cheered and screamed and filled with tears of joy because this money will help us all out and we realized that our advocacy for change worked. It really worked this time. In many ways, it feels bigger than the bonuses we will receive.
The children were curious about our emotionally charged celebration and asked us what was going on and what happened. Upon an age appropriate explanation about how we used our voices to generate change “like we always talk about”, they smiled and celebrated with us. One 4 year old girl remarked, “Well, that is really great!”.
All of this is inspiration to never give up on fighting for what you believe is right and fair and accessible. Because a few people raised their voices, educators all over the state will have easier access to these bonuses.
I want to thank the representative candidates and legislators for visiting and listening to our stories. I want to thank Mark for joining us during their visit, representing the families in our community, and sharing his family’s story and struggles while honoring the work we do and sacrifices we make. I want to thank my co-teachers for being absolutely incredible advocates and humans, Dawn Irwin for being the best director in the world and fighting for all of us in the Wonder community every way she can. Lastly, I want to thank Dominique for reaching out and initiating the interview with the reporter and representing us with her eloquent words. We will continue to advocate for change together, for as long as we have to.
By: Emily Holden
A link to the article in the Seven Days--
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We are Early Childhood Educators that consider introspection and reflection valuable tools that help us become the best teachers we can be. Please enjoy reading all about our adventures inside and outside of our classroom!