What I Wish I’d Known Before Working with Kids

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With me leaving a job, this year I decided my next job will be in a field that I am passionate about. I enjoy helping kids and adults who can’t help themselves at the moment. It was between a private nurse, nanny, or teacher. The school that I am working at now kind of just fell in my lap. I needed a job and as a kid, I did want to become a teacher, so it felt right to try it out.

A school reached out to me and was impressed by my resume. I was informed of an opening working as a daycare teacher that takes care of kids who are 3 weeks to 2 years old until they head over to Preschool. Perfect. Right?

Not entirely. Whilst working with kids can be a massively rewarding job, it certainly has its hardships which I wasn’t quite prepared for. I received training during the starting of my new role, but what this training could not prepare me for was the often stressful, often hilarious, crazy things kids get up to. Here are some of the things I wish I’d known before taking the plunge.

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You’re not going to get paid a lot.

When I started as an assistant daycare teacher, I quickly learned that typically daycare teachers usually make $10 hourly. The salary only bumped up a little when you become the main classroom teacher or the director. That’s not a joke: As of Mar 20, 2022, the average annual pay for a Daycare Teacher in Miami is $19,611 year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $9.43 an hour. This is the equivalent of $377/week or $1,634/month. It seems like the salaries are getting a little higher as people recognize how important early education is, but you have to love this job because you’re not going to be doing it for the money.

The cuteness wears off fast

Tiny little people running around is cute for the first few hours, maybe even days. However, this wears off pretty quickly. It takes just one child bursting out into tears or misbehaving to reduce all cuteness of the collective group of children. For me, the nail in the coffin had to be one girl deciding to deliberately (yes deliberately) soil herself in an attempt to garner attention.

It’s so very tiring

10 hours a day, 5 days a week takes its toll, let alone doing this on your feet practically all day, ensuring the safety of 12+ kids whilst keeping them entertained. Early nights are a must.

You seem to be hungry ALL the time

There’s something about running around after misbehaving kids all day that works up an appetite. Bring plenty of food to work because there’s nothing more painful than watching all the kids eating the overly excessive amounts of food their parents have packed them in the morning, lunch, AND afternoon whilst you’re sitting there starving.

Most of them have no concept of personal space

Sometimes funny, sometimes annoying; kids just don’t seem to care about anyone’s personal space, including yours. Whether it’s sticking their noses right up against yours to talk to you or braiding your hair and decorating it with daises, having known you for merely a day (yes, I happened to be the unlucky victim, and yes, these kids don’t understand that you just don’t put your hands in a black woman hair, especially with dirty hands).

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Everything you do is being watched.

Not to sound too creepy, but kids are like sponges at this age. They’re watching everything you do and, as a teacher, you’re modeling how to be a human being. That means I need to be super aware of what I wear, what I say, and how I act around the kids. It doesn’t mean I need to be cheerful and happy-go-lucky all the time. Most of what we’re teaching kids at that age is how to handle their emotions in appropriate ways, so I think it’s OK to demonstrate how to deal with negative emotions too. If I stub my toe and it really hurts, it’s perfectly acceptable to explain to a 3-year-old how I’m feeling and why — like, “I feel frustrated, because my toe hurts.”

The lotion will become your best friend because you’re going to wash your hands a million times a day.

It’s simply a fact that preschool classrooms are germy, and — going back to the modeling thing — you have to be an example of good hygiene. That being said, daycare teachers get sick like every other week because of the kids. Every daycare has cleaning procedures regarding toy-washing and classroom clean-up, and while your kids are going to get runny noses, teaching them how to wipe their noses becomes part of your curriculum.

Teamwork is key to surviving the day.

There will be days when you don’t feel energetic or entertaining, and that’s where your team comes in. Every daycare has support staff, so teachers aren’t stranded by themselves when things get chaotic in the classroom. If I’m having an off-day, I can always ask one of those people to take charge of circle time while I do something more mundane, like washing tables, or to watch my classroom while I take a five-minute break. 

Kids are hilarious

It’s safe to say that by the end of it all, you’ll have many stories to share, and most of them are funny. Anyone who works or has worked with kids will know that kids do weird and wonderful things, and regardless of the struggles of working with them, you can rest assured you’ll be entertained daily.

You have to be OK with making a complete fool of yourself.

This is a big part of the job: You can’t take yourself too seriously. Sometimes you’re standing up singing a ridiculous song or pretending to be a monkey in the jungle, and you have to be able to get out of your self-conscious adult brain for a minute and play. Sometimes that’s hard for people, but those are the times you connect with the kids, and it’s absurdly fun to play like a kid again.

You’ll miss (some of) them

Despite many of them giving you a hard time for weeks, there are some kids that you become accustomed to brightening up your day somewhat, and I would be lying if I said it isn’t the slightest bit sad to see them go. Kids get attached easily, and it’s just as sad to see them struggle to say goodbye to you.

It’s very rewarding

As tiring and stressful as working with kids can be, the rewarding nature of the work ultimately outweighs all the negatives. There are not many better feelings than knowing you’ve sent a child home smiling. I don’t think I fully appreciated or expected the feeling of fulfillment gained from the knowledge that you have positively impacted upon a child’s life in some way, however small or brief, and this makes all the hard work worthwhile.

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