This Women’s History Month, Congress Should Honor Early Educators Like My Mom
By Alejandra Londono Gomez
“Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” is the theme the National Women’s History Alliance designated for this year’s Women’s History Month. The alliance notes this theme recognizes the “ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic,” and acknowledges how women have contributed “both healing and hope throughout history.” The theme speaks even more to me as the daughter of an early educator. Over the last two years, I’ve witnessed how my mother has become a pillar of safety, hope, and healing to her children and their families.
It’s time for policymakers to give this healing and hope back to our early educators. I urge Congress to invest meaningfully in child care to create a transformed system of care so that caregivers, child care providers, and early educators like my mother can be treated fairly and heal from years of undervaluation and injustices. The least we can do as a country to support these workers who are truly essential to families—and the overall economy.
From a very early age, my mother knew that teaching was her passion. With the support of her mother and eldest siblings, she earned a degree in special education in Colombia. For ten years she worked as a teacher and school administrator. However, her home country’s political and social instability forced my parents to leave everything behind and move to the United States. It was not an easy decision, as my mother had to forsake her dream job, only to be harshly punished by the realities of being an immigrant in the United States.
After many years of hard work, she had the opportunity to get back to the classroom, first as a teacher’s aide and, later, as a preschool teacher. While her work has been so meaningful for her students and their families, it has also come with significant challenges that were exacerbated by the pandemic. During a conversation about how she was feeling in her role, she underscored that caregivers, teachers, and early educators are desperate for help. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) continues to bring essential relief for providers and families—but it’s not enough to solve the long-term inequities of the system.
First, compensation is a big concern for her and her colleagues. It’s very hard to live on poverty wages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, child care workers receive an average of $12.24 per hour, while a preschool teacher makes an average of $15.35 per hour. This pay simply doesn’t come close to reflecting the amount of education, experience, or time she and other early educators dedicate to her work.
Next, she suggested that child care centers, like hers, are understaffed. A recent survey of child care providers from the National Association for the Education of Young Children found that “two-thirds of respondents reported experiencing a staffing shortage that affected their ability to care for children.” My mother revealed that she can’t even take a break on most days due to the lack of staff. She often comes home famished and dehydrated, which has increasingly harmed her health.
Finally, my mom’s experience underscores the consequences of burnout in the early childhood workforce. She emphasized the importance of work-life balance on employees’ overall mental, physical, and psychological wellbeing, as well as for overall staff retention. Unfortunately, the lack of staff forces her and her colleagues to go to work early and leave late—without extra pay. I even find her doing more work on the weekends to be the best teacher possible.
All of these circumstances have taken a toll on my mother’s health. As a result, she is considering if the work she loves is worth letting her own health deteriorate. She’s not alone—many child care workers and early educators feel the same.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it’s important to honor, encourage, and help the women (and men) who provide care to our children. But to really do right by caregivers, Congress must invest in real and transformative change. Early educators deserve the healing and hope this Women’s History Month promises, which they pass to our children. It’s time our policies fully value this profession so we can keep more dedicated people like my mother in the classroom.