What it means to be an ECE worker in the pandemic
A day in the life of Candace Whynot, an Early Childhood Educator at University Settlement Day Care
Sometimes all it takes is one incident to bring things into focus.
I’m responsible for screening every child and staff member before they enter the Day Care (a high-risk job that demands wearing full PPE). One winter morning a child, let’s call him Sam, was being dropped off to the preschool room. After taking off his boots, Sam stepped on the wet floor with his socks. Sam is on the Autism Spectrum and sensory stimulation can trigger an emotional reaction. He became overwhelmed by the sensation of his wet socks. I tried to calm him but I was wearing full PPE, which is already a problem for Sam because he relies mostly on non-verbal communication; a mask and face shield creates a barrier.
When he is in a state of extreme frustration, Sam looks for comfort from those he trusts in the form of tight hugs. In one full swoop he climbed on me, sending my face shield flying and grabbing my mask with his wet tear and saliva-soaked hands.
Two things quickly flashed through my mind. One: This hug is not appropriate physical distancing. Two: I can now feel the wetness through my mask. Those thoughts quickly faded and, in that moment, I decided to give Sam what he needed: a hug. I didn’t pull away, I didn’t reach for my face shield and I didn’t get another mask. No, in that moment I chose to hug Sam tight until he calmed down.
Coming away from that situation, I was met with many emotions. The first one was fear. I was scared that I had potentially risked my life for that hug.
Then, I was met with anger because the government does not consider ECEs essential enough to qualify for pandemic pay or adequate sick days. I was angry that ECEs are paid on average only slightly above minimum wage. We continue to be ignored and cast aside, unrecognized as the super heroes that we all know we are.
Lastly, I was met with pride. I was proud of myself and all ECEs. We have taken on this pandemic and all that it has thrown at us, moving forward courageously, doing our jobs because we love these children, and we love what we do.
We work to be the best educators that we can, but we also need to be protected so that we can continue to provide care to the best of our abilities. This is why I am telling my story, to ask everyone to contact your government representatives and demand that ECEs do not go unnoticed and are treated as the essential workers that we know we are.
We are a key element in fighting the pandemic and in the pandemic recovery plan. We need to be treated as such. Our profession is in need of a major upgrade concerning how we are treated, compensated and respected. We need your help to incite change.
We shouldn’t have to fear for our lives while on the job, but during this pandemic that is the hand that we have been dealt. It is about time the leaders of our City, Province and Country start recognizing that and are held accountable for the decisions they have made for us. Thank you.
Early Childhood Educator