Fellow Worker Liz talks about her experience in early childhood education. Interviewed by FW Gordon and FW Sean.
What’s your work background?
I started in early childhood education in 1986 and except for a ten year gap, I’ve stayed in the industry. I’ve worked for private, for profit, and faith based schools and I’ve worked as an assistant reacher, a teacher, and a director.
What did you do for those ten years?
I worked as an innkeeper, direct sales, and annuity products. Nothing memorable.
Now you’re teaching again, where?
I’m an early head start teacher with an early learning center led by an Indigenous program. It is partly funded by a Block Grant with the Head Start program. Head Start began as part of the war on poverty in the mid 1960’s and continues to serve communities in need of early education programs. It is a bit of a full circle for me as I was a child of the Head Start program in 1969 as a four year old. The goal is to use Federal Funds to improve education and family outcomes for the children.
How do you feel about the early childhood program?
There is a great benefit to the grant program for early childhood education and serving a population that would otherwise not have access to quality education with teachers with professional experience and education.
However, I have seen the industry change over the years. In my years teaching I have seen many home-made, natural and resourceful items replaced by the unnecessary capitalist system through the sale of manufactured items, such as buying bags of rocks, shells and pinecones to benefit catalog companies instead of collecting these items.
Why did you choose to work with an Indigenous Sovereign Program?
I wanted to work in an environment where I could be myself. In past education jobs I felt like I had to have a separate work and personal persona. I want to be able to be myself and to speak my truth in a community environment. I was also looking for a 30-40 minute commute and a balance of a natural environment with my suburban dwelling. The school is a longhouse design with exposed cedar beams, after a traditional community longhouse, surrounded by forest and other natural elements. The tribe has cultural and language programs and a sense of the future. They’re prioritizing the education of their people over profit.The tribe is focused on doing away with the “isms” that plague us. Based on my research, the tribe’s education center was an attractive workplace.
So how is your workplace structured?
I teach in a classroom with a co-teacher and an assistant teacher. We report to a supervisor, who reports to a director. The two co-teachers create curriculum, lesson plans, work with parent communication and set learning goals while the assistant works with the teachers in interactions and day to day operations. We all work together to care for the children and the classroom. There are also other departments reporting to the director, including a nurse on staff, family services, facility cooks for all meals for staff and children and school age childcare staff.
Sounds like a lot of positives to working with the tribe. How does that compare to other schools?
I’m happy with my work at the tribe. At private schools, the students are dollar signs. I want to work in an environment that allows me to be in partnership with the students and families, where I can create a fun safe environment for parents to leave their kids while they work. The tribe offers nature, community, and people over profits. There’s a sense of community and that’s important for me.
If the Tribe is prioritizing people over profits, how’s the pay?
It’s the best paying early childhood education job that I’ve had. I could be paid more, but compared to the industry, I have good pay, benefits, and time off. This is the best I’ve been paid while in the industry and I can finally live comfortably. Pay wasn’t what drew me to the tribe. I’m excited because we are really working to end some ‘isms.’ I’m going to training soon where I can take implicit bias classes so that I can be a better partner for my students. I’m grateful and excited that my work is changing society.
You mentioned industry wide low pay. Would early childhood education benefit from organizing and direct action?
Absolutely, the industry has a problem in that pay is low, hours are long, and stress is high. The industry should be organizing for more pay, better benefits, and better conditions. But I am happy with my workplace. I don’t feel oppressed or exploited because I am working in community with the oppressed.
Education is Industrial Union 620. What kind of power would more solidarity bring to your industry?
Without education workers, people wouldn’t be able to work. Early childhood education is so important the Federal government subsidized it during World War Two to mobilize the workforce. Education workers could shut down the economy.
It sounds like your workplace isn’t in need of a march on the boss or anything. Have you been able to use solidarity unionism to improve your workplace ?
Joining the IWW and learning about solidarity has helped with communication and community. When I work out problems with co-workers I listen more and am able to offer more care and compassion. I’ve been a good wobbly and made my workplace better.
What are your hopes for the future?
I want more pay, better conditions, and better education outcomes for the children of the country and I think solidarity unionism is the way to win those improvements. I’d like to see a more active and organized IU 620 in Washington State. Just by talking to my coworkers about stress, I’ve been able to improve my workplace. Solidarity unionism works, and I want to see more of it in the industry.