Stereotypes, Struggles, and the Resulting Issues
Guest writer: Schmilkberry
Note: This article was written to benefit from the Discount Deal.
Disclaimer: Just like parental care and didactic/pedagogicA are strongly influenced by culture, religious views and personal opinions, childcare as an institution may differ depending on which country you are living in, which principles and philosophies it is based on and what the individual workers believe in.
When describing work requirements and training of new workers, the German educational/training system is used as a base. It is the system the author is most familiar with and the term 'kindergarten' itself was coined in Germany (by Friedrich W. Froebel).
It is important to note, that the German 'kindergarten' differs from the American institution of the same name. In Germany the word 'kindergarten' describes a daycare for preschoolers (age 3 to 6) which is often combined with a 'krippe', a daycare for children under a year. In America, for comparison, 'kindergarten' describes a one-year-long program that is meant to prepare a child for school, teaching basic reading and mathematics skills. Something similar exists in Germany, too, but it is combined with the 'normal' daycare experience (taking place in the last year the child visits the daycare).
A lot of learning, little earning (comparatively)
In Germany a training of at least 3 years is required to work in a 'kindergarten' as a pre-school teacher. Without an 'Abitur' (for simplicity's sake you could compare it to a more advanced high school degree), another two years of training as a 'Sozialassistent' are necessary before you can start your training as a pre-school teacher.
Training covers the school subjects 'didactic/methodics' (how to teach others), pedagogic (general pedagogic but also music-, art-, sports-, and game-pedagogic; all seperate subjects), ethics, philosophy, social work, religion, history of childhood-education, physical care and hygiene, biology and housekeeping.
At the end of the training a thesis on a specific didactic topic has to be written and a practical demonstration of one's work has to be given (often in form of a week-long project that focuses on the subject of the thesis).
For such a long training (which, a couple of years ago, was completely unpaid), the monthly pay is rather low (some people go as far to say, that preschool teachers are underpaid 'normal' teachers). For comparison, a preschool teacher earns about 2400-2800 Euro1, the average earning in Germany however is about 3700 Euro a month2.
'Professional coffee drinkers'
The lower income combined with prejudices about the work in a 'kindergarten' often leads to a certain amount of disrespect, that can, depending on region and social environment, be more or less obvious.
The two most often cited stereotypes are:
"Preschool teachers just play all day with children or sit around and do nothing, drinking coffee"
- For someone not involved in childcare it may indeed look like preschool teachers have a pretty relaxed work routine. This could not be further from the truth however. Due to the large responsibility a preschool teacher has for the children under their care, some situations can become quickly rather stressful, especially since most teams are understaffed (due to illness, which is a large problem in a preschool environment, general lack of workers-not many people want to do a job that doesn't pay well, or children that require special care and observation).
- This is especially true for preschool teachers who work in 'krippen', with very small children/babies.A preschool teacher has the following main tasks: ensure safety of the children, educate them according to their age and development, help with food intake and hygiene and analyze (on a basic
level) and document their development (be it motoric, cognitive or social).
- If a teacher is playing with a child, they often do so to monitor the abilities of the child. If they let the children play freely (which is an important part of childhood pedagogic), they usually closely observe their behavior in a professional manner, to determine deficits and advancement.
- Professional meetings with the parents and practical exercises for the children (like crafting, music-projects, sport exercises...) have to be planned and prepared.
- An average group consists of 25-30 children with 3 teachers caring for them. So, in the end, a preschool teacher has to take care of a large family, while also writing documentations and making preparations.
"Preschool teachers have no 'real' professional/pedagogic knowledge or are uneducated in general"
- See above. A good preschool teacher will apply their pedagogic knowledge to any activity they plan with or for the children. They know about development phases, how to promote the improvement of specific abilities and a child's individual strengths and weaknesses.
Sometimes this is combined with sexism- childcare is still a very female-dominated field, so, in some people's eyes, it can't be that important or 'advanced'. These stereotypes often lead to less then preferable behavior towards staff and the management of an institution. Of course, parents usually know what is best for their own child but they often don't see that a preschool teacher is not only responsible for their child, but for many. This may lead to them ignoring rules (like bringing their children too late, letting their children take toys to the daycare there are not allowed to bringB...) because it benefits them and/or their child.
They may feel disadvantaged ('They don't care enough for my child') or their way of raising their child may conflict with professional standards ('If he starts throwing a tantrum, I just give him what he wants'), which may lead to arguments (e.g. when a child complains about a teacher being particularly 'strict').
Also, since preschool teachers have only basic medical knowledge they might need to ask the parents to pickup their child from the daycare, should they are unsure or feel that a specific condition needs professional observation and treatment, which they can't provide themselves (e.g. a rash might just be a reaction to the acids in tomato sauce or it might be something contagious). Usually parents will pickup their children without complaints in such a situation, but it also happens that they accuse the staff of overreacting, ignoring that a contagious diseases might endanger other children.
- Sickness and disease are troublesome topics in general; 'children are brought in bad conditions, nobody dares to speak up, because these particular parents are known to get incredibly rude, the teachers become infected, they have to stay at home, quality of work becomes worse'.3
- Not always is pure entitlement the source for such behavior, many parents are stressed, have bad days or are just worried about their children's well-being. However, since trust is so incredibly important in this field of work, be it between teach and child or teacher and the parents, the latter can only be seen as a reason, not an excuse. In general, if a parent does not trust the staff in a daycare, it is recommended that they look for another institution to send their child to. And rude behavior will almost always make the staff feel like they are not trusted.
What am I even doing here?
- At the end of their training a preschool teacher should have developed their own outlook on pedagogic and childhood education. No matter if it follows an already established concept (Montessori, Waldorf, etc.) or if it is unique, it usually moves on a sliding scale between 'pedagogic
optimism' and 'pedagogic pessimism'.
- The extreme form of 'pedagogic optimism' would be 'I can shape a child's character and abilities completely with my actions' and an outspoken 'pedagogic pessimist' probably would say something like 'everything about a child is predetermined by their biology or upbringing, I can't change that'. Most preschool teachers find themselves in the center of this sliding scale, which is congruent what modern pedagogic science says; there are many factors that influence our development³ and the acts of our caretakers, be they part of the family or teachers, are one of them.
- Some situations might however become increasingly frustrating. 'You try to teach a child to eat on its own with a spoon and it is going well. The weekend comes and next Monday they have forgotten everything, because the parents, despite you having talked to them previously, don't support their child's development. Feeding them makes less of a mess, after all and is so much more comfortable. Or cute. And then you just sit there and think, why am I even trying.'
- The other extreme is parents rushing their child, going against their basic physical, cognitive or social abilities ('making' them walk, overstrain their child's attention span with long 'learning sessions'...) and basic pedagogic values.
'We had a child who seemingly had no interest in walking. They preferred to crawl and did so quite well. They surely would have started to make first attempts at getting up in about a month. The next week they came in and suddenly could walk. At first we were not too worried (...), sometimes children have developmental leaps. But in the following days it became obvious, that the child was not comfortable; the bend their knees and ankles in a way, that, in the long run, could be unhealthy and when they fell, they fell hard, because they had never learned how to break a fall. The parents had obviously rushed them (...).
- 'In extreme cases, especially when combined with rude behavior and/or parents being know-it-alls this can lead to immense dissatisfaction with one's work and some teachers might start pondering, if what they are doing is even important or of any value.
A woman's job
As previously mentioned, childcare is an occupation that is still seen as something feminine, a 'women's job', as some would say.
But women are definitely not the only ones who are suffering from sexism in this field of work.It is incredibly difficult for a man to gain respect and trust as a preschool teacher, even though many institutions want to employ men, as children benefit from positive male role models.
To put it incredibly bluntly: 'The worst thing a woman has to hear in this job: 'You are incompetent'. The worst thing a man has to hear: 'You are a criminal and a pervert and I don't want you to touch my children.'
Negative stereotypes include:
- they are pedophiles who just want to get close to children
Plain sexist and ignores cases of female caretakers sexually abusing children.
- they are not able to emotionally connect with children
Plain sexist and completely ignores men who have children of their own.
- they are not as good as women when it comes to drawing, crafting, singing, feeding or cleaning a child
(real life example between a mother and her daughter: 'The picture you have made is very nice'. 'Yes, David helped me'. 'Oh, it probably could have been better if Doris had helped you.')
- they want to work there because they will be surrounded by women
...who might be married, much older or just not interested
- children are inherently scared of men
If a child has a debilitating fear of men, this is usually caused by external factors
- men who work as preschool teachers are all softies who couldn't survive a day in a 'real' job
Plain sexist towards both men and women and especially hilarious, when cited within minutes of the second point. Also, at least in Germany, quite a number of male pedagogues have learned a trade like carpentry beforehand, as it allows them to work in more specialized institutions (like sheltered workshops).
What to do with this information
Characters who work in childcare can be quite resourceful. They are quick to notice when things aregoing awry. Bad parenting, terrible social environment, living in a possibly haunted house or even demonic possession?
A preschool teacher might be able to notice changes in a child's behavior before the parents do, who might be preoccupied, stressed out or, in extreme cases, the root of the problem ('Miss, you have yet again brought a cursed artifact into your home. I am worried that your shopping addiction might negatively influence your children'.).
They work well as both main and side characters and describing their personal struggles makes them more 'human' then the 'happy elderly woman who just looooves kids and is always super kind and happy' stereotype.
Also you might get some ideas how to write a character's parents. Having them yell 'My child comes first!' at a preschool teacher sitting in a room full of children is a great way to show their entitlement. Or they might be genuinely nice and help with the preparations for the upcoming summer festival.
Their days in a daycare might be an important part of a character's personal history, after all some kids spend up to seven hours or even the night in one. Sometimes a preschool teacher sees the child longer than their own parents do-and might become an important point of reference to a child.
I in general want to encourage you to read a bit about early childhood development. There are so many stories that basically boil down to 'Had a bad childhood, might murder someone, idk', when children are far more resilient to psychological damage then most adults. It is just a fascinating topic that can help a lot when working on a character and especially their motivations.
Caring for children is a lovely job and most families are genuinely nice. Don't be fooled by this mostly negative text.
This was written for 'The Character Consultancy' (https://www.thecharacterconsultancy.co.uk/), by a 25-years old, male preschool teacher who loves his job and would only trade it for something that earns him significantly more money.
A: didactic = how to teach someone
pedagogic = how to raise someone (more in a social sense then simply caring for one's physical needs)
B: like electronic toys and video games (which are seen as detrimental to the social environment a kindergarten is supposed to have) and gun-like toys (children are not supposed to see a gun as something playful and fun and they possible could 'shoot' at a child who has not given consent to this kind of play, without them knowing-a sword or stick fight always involve engaging the other person, for comparison, so that they can object)
All cursive citations are taken from coworkers or parents, who shall remain unnamed).
Title image by Elsapret and used with their kind permission.