Burnout & Turnover In Preschool – It Matters!
It is an unfortunate fact that teacher burnout is the norm in child care. Some might even see burnout as an occupational hazard, part and parcel of the job.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether you are an in-home provider, a teacher, director or teaching assistant, it takes a special kind of person to pursue a career in early childhood. To be successful, you will need a lot of patience, love, solid communication skills, an organized mind, boundless energy, strength and soul. It’s not easy and it’s not for everyone.
Amidst early education receiving a lot of press and public attention, the field is going through a labor crisis. A lot of teachers are leaving the field because they are burning out. In the 2018 Child Care Benchmark Report, child care business owners identified labor as the #1 organizational risk. This, coupled with the rising demand for child care is creating a tough situation for business owners, teachers, parents and everyone (especially the kiddos) involved.
As attitudes towards the relationship between millennial parents, career and family change, early childhood professionals are positioned to become a key support system for the backbone of our economy. So, let’s tackle this issue of burnout in the field shall we?
Reasons For Teacher Burnout
Teaching preschool is so much more than showing up to look after the kiddos. Educators wear many hats in their roles: guardian, friend, first responder, counselor, cook, janitor, entertainer, mediator, the list goes on. All while making sure that the children under their care are safe and happy. Here are some reasons why burnout is so common in child care.
Lack of Training and Support
Child care professionals come from different educational backgrounds. From high school to post-graduate degrees, the level of experience varies from educator to educator. This, coupled with the requirements that come can put pressure on teachers and administrators to perform in a role without the necessary knowledge of best practices.
Between transitions, different shifts, a hasty lunch, talking to parents, putting out fires and making sure the kids are safe and happy, it is a lot to squeeze in training. That’s a lot of responsibility to have on one plate!
This brings us to the topic of support. Early educators are often siloed in their classrooms and don’t always have the strongest support system be it within the center or externally. When your team is constantly on the go and overworked, morale can take a hit across the board and burn out.
Preschool Teachers Are Nurturing People
There is definitely a personality profile that excels in the role of a preschool teacher: Someone who is nurturing, has a huge heart and is always there for their kiddos and families.
For better or for worse, this personality type can sometimes be the main contributor to burnout. Teachers that are so keen to please and help the families that they serve often forget to prioritize their own work-life balance.
Anyone who works in a child care setting will tell you that being sick all the time is pretty standard. Substitute teachers are difficult to schedule and the hassle of catching up is often seen as not worth it. The longer a teacher pushes themselves to be available for their kiddos and families, the more ill they become. This can turn into a toxic cycle that is not sustainable for a teacher’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Underappreciation And Self-Worth
Early childhood professionals are relationship-driven people. I mean the job requires a whole lot of heart! Despite that, it is one of the most underappreciated and undervalued professions by society.
Negativity often comes from many sources:
- Friends/family: “Oh, being a preschool teacher isn’t a real job”
- Parents: “It’s just glorified babysitting”
- The general public: “How hard is it to play with kids all day”
- Yourself: “I guess I am just a preschool teacher”
This incorrect association of value and identity not only contributes to a feeling of apathy at work, it also impacts the way in which teachers view themselves. That, on top of pay that doesn’t correlate to the hours and effort required for the job, it isn’t a stretch to see why teachers leave the profession.
How to Avoid Burnout In Child Care
Now that we’ve covered some key contributors to teacher burnout, let’s talk about some strategies to prevent and minimize this. In the long run, a healthy and high-functioning team means a more sustainable business with minimal employee turnover, better quality care and a workplace that’s more fun!
Build A Culture That Raises People Up
Given that child care is a field that is underappreciated, shifting your perspective makes a world of a difference. Think of your center in the frame of a family and take pride in your team and the families you serve. A simple “great job” goes a long way in making someone feel acknowledged for their hard work.
This doesn’t have to fall solely on the shoulders of leadership either! Every single person on the team has the capacity to shout a team member out, support a colleague who might be struggling with something and even mentor each other. An engaged team will organically raise the quality of your center and become more established in the community.
Get Organized and Communicate Expectations
Child care administration and leadership can have a huge impact on this front. A simple way to combat burnout is to provide tools to optimize time management and make tasks easier. If you have a team that works really hard already, set boundaries for your teachers to make sure that balance becomes a priority. Communicate expectations clearly and stick to them.
Some of these things can be:
- Setting clear shift times
- Using technology for paperwork
- Staffing classes in pairs / small teams
- Creating a mentorship program
- Showcasing your teachers’ work to parents
By having clear expectations, teachers will be able to take guilt-free breaks and maintain some balance while on the job. A mentorship program will help with training on the job, and having set career tracks will also help you build a team structure that has growth potential and pushes your staff to value their work. This is also a great way to retain top talent at your center.
Invest In Your People
Continuous professional development is key to staying up to date with the various licensing requirements and trends in the field. Reinvesting into your workforce will translate to an increase in quality across the board and yield returns both monetarily and from a morale perspective.
If staffing is an issue for this, schedule designated professional development days during the school year so that your team can focus on them. Make sure that parents are aware of your commitment to improving the service that you’re providing them and it is a win-win for everyone!
Despite the fact that burnout is common in child care, there are ways for early childhood professionals to change the status quo. What do you do at your center? Share your tips in the comments below!