“I am sometimes called a ‘child whisperer’.” So said Anna Marie Green, a child care educator who this April will have worked in child care for 21 years. Anna has an uncanny ability to discern why a child is crying. Her charges at the Howard Area Family Center in Rogers Park range in age from 6 weeks to 3 years. She remains with a single group of 8 infants and toddlers until they age out of the program and then begins with a new group. Groups remain intact; it is rare for a child to leave before age 3. “Continuity of care” describes her philosophy as well as the Center’s.
Previously, Anna worked with infants from 6 weeks to 16 months at the Ada S. McKinley Center at 79th and Western. She remained for 16 years until the center closed in 2013. Earlier she did a brief internship at another center but rejected it because the ratio of children to teachers was too high, something that Anna says means the center does not value the educator.
Anna earned an A.A.S. in Child Development at Olive Harvey College. Her intention had been to study business but she took some child development courses (“It was fate.”) and she changed her major. She continues to take courses, mostly at the City Colleges, to keep up with the field. The courses can also qualify for the 15 hours of training per year mandated by the State of Illinois. Presumably some of these course credits could be applied to a bachelor’s degree.
After the McKinley Center closed, she experienced a terrible year, at times even having trouble putting food on the table. Then she found her current job at the Howard Area Family Center that is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). [In 2018, less than 10% of child care centers, preschools, and kindergartens achieved this recognition.] “It means quality,” Anna says. The Center maintains a 4 to 1 student to teacher ratio and also has Family Support Workers who work with the families.
As head teacher, in addition to caring for children, Anna leads the other adults in creating a working team that can function as a unit. The work load is heavy. In addition to attending to the children, the staff has extensive paperwork to complete: writing a plan for the next day’s activities, taking attendance, recording each child’s activities. She also consults parents in their homes or virtually. As head teacher it is her responsibility to maintain the 4 to 1 ratio in case another staff member has to leave early. Anna’s work day stretches from 7:30am to 4:30pm however it’s a rare day that she can actually leave by 4:30.
Her pay? Initially, she earned $7.16 per hour; then for 5 to 6 years, it increased to $9.00 per hour. After that, between $10 and $11 per hour and most recently $12 per hour. I exclaimed, “You don’t even make $15 per hour!” With hands out and shoulders hunched (we were on Zoom), she responded, “After all these years!” Her job does have health care and dental insurance; a certain amount is deducted from her check for her part in paying for it.
What are the major problems in child care work? Child care workers are not paid fairly. They are constantly working with short ratios. There should be at least 3 teachers in a classroom but usually there are only 2 and an assistant. They don’t have adequate time for paperwork, and there is no tuition reimbursement for child care educators to continue their formal education. “Is there a lot of turnover?” “Yes! In the last 30 days we’ve lost at least 6 people.”
If Anna could wave a magic wand, salaries would start at $30,000 to $35,000. There would be at least 3 adults in every class with a 4th person to facilitate when extra support was needed.
Centers would have a designated break room so that teachers and others could gather with food because it enhances people’s enjoyment. “It brings joy.” Child care would be free from birth to age 5 so that parents would not have to worry about juggling co-payments with car notes and mortgages, and finally, every parent would take 3 – 4 child development courses so they could understand a child’s needs.
Anna’s presence, energy, and enthusiasm has meant that she’s been tapped to work – unpaid – with two other organizations, her union, SEIU (Service Employees International Union, Healthcare Indiana Illinois Missouri/Kansas) and United Working Families. When SEIU was trying to organize Ada S. McKinley, she was appointed as a steward to negotiate with management, a position involving some risk – a risk she accepted. Her only daughter was grown and self-sufficient and Anna felt she herself could recover if she lost her job. She has had 3 internships with the union and worked, for example, on the Fight for $15. United Working Families trained her in grass-roots work supporting endorsed candidates. She has campaigned going door-to-door, attending meetings and speaking to community members about why the endorsed candidate is appropriate for the job.
Interviewing her, one senses her passion for the work she does. Twice during our interviews, Anna exclaimed, “Everything I do I love!” Would that our society showed its appreciation more.