Of all the things that happen at an Early Education/Child Care Center, perhaps the most puzzling, to parents, is the inconsistency of teachers in their child’s classroom. Why, you might wonder, can’t the same teacher be there all the time and also when you drop off or pick up your child. Well, wonder no longer…and wait no longer…here is the answer! Different teachers at different times are seen in classrooms for three main reasons:
First: The childcare industry, unfortunately, is prone to high turnover and there are few industries (e.g. restaurant) that have higher turnover rates. Turnover in the childcare industry ranges between 30-50% per year and certainly is one of the reasons that parents will see different teachers in any given classroom during the year. However, this explains only long-term changes, over several months usually, in the classrooms – but what about changes from day to day?
Second: The rate of teacher callouts – defined as not coming to work and giving very short (less than 2 hours) or no notice at all - is high in the childcare industry and accounts for day to day teacher changes in classrooms. Such callouts are more prevalent on Mondays and Fridays but also occur not too infrequently during the rest of the week. This leads to a teacher, or more, missing from a given classroom. Now, to make up for that absence Directors/Assistant Directors have to move teachers around from classroom to classroom to cover for the missing teacher(s). Since other teachers’ shift timings, all teacher breaks, and myriad other scheduling requirements need to be met as well, it is never as simple as, well, just move one teacher from one classroom and put them in the classroom with the missing teacher – simply because there aren’t any extra teachers? Sometimes children have to be moved to a different classroom to free up a teacher. So, why then don’t centers just keep extra teachers around to take care of such situations? The answer is quite simple – that would lead to increased cost of childcare and not many parents want to pay even more for childcare. Why not have a substitute list you might ask? Well, unlike the public-school system, there is no substitute program where center directors can call and ask for a substitute. Well then, you might ask, why don’t centers keep their own substitute list? Again, the answer is simple – the logistics and expense of maintaining a substitute list is beyond the means of most centers. And even those who try or do have a list, it is unreliable because the people on that list are working at other places because just being on one center’s substitute list does not provide them with an adequate number of working hours – thus they have to work elsewhere. So, since they are working elsewhere, they may or may not be available when the center needs them. Working with staffing, and juggling all the competing imperatives that need to be met is very challenging.
All this explains day to day variation in classroom teachers, but what about during the same day? Why, when parents drop off their child they see one teacher and then when they pick up they see another?
Third: Which teacher is in which classroom during the day is affected by both of the above but also by another logistical factor. Children are dropped off at centers at different times in the morning and early on there are very few children. Thus, it is not necessary to staff every classroom in the Center when it opens. Consequently, certain age groups, e.g. 2 to 17-month old or 2,3 and 4-year old children, are grouped in one classroom at opening with one teacher (who may not be your child’s teacher). As children trickle in, so do the teachers, and finally, when all the teachers are present (assuming no one called out) all children go to their respective classrooms accompanied by their respective teachers. Thus, it is easy to see why, if you drop off early, you may not see your child’s teacher. An analogous but opposite algorithm is used at the end of the day where, as children leave so do the teachers and, once again, close to the end of the day children are grouped as described above. An obvious question arises: why not staff all classrooms from open to close? If centers did indeed do that, the cost of childcare would be even more astronomical than it is now because they would be staffing rooms that have very few children. The cost of teacher wages is a large part of the cost of running a center (hovers around 50% plus or minus), and it is thus essential that costs be kept at a minimum to make sure good childcare is kept as affordable and accessible as possible.
In summary, three things affect the teacher variation you see in your child’s classroom – high staff turnover rates intrinsic to the childcare industry, truancy and callouts by teachers, and logistical realities of staffing a childcare center in the first and last 2-3 hours of the day. Childcare itself is a challenging endeavor and, when mixed with staffing issues described above, is even more complex. However, hard working staff and Assistant Directors/Directors somehow make it work. In the end, the only real and fundamental solution to the problem is to increase remuneration of childcare teachers to a level that would significantly decrease turnover and truancy.