My wife and I both work in childcare. She teaches in a Reggio-inspired infant program, and I teach in a Reggio-inspired outdoor preschool. We met in high school and dated for ten years (two of which were from opposite sides of the world). A few years ago, we moved to Nashville as boyfriend and girlfriend, and finally got married last year.
And in March, we had our first baby. A beautiful, strong-willed, curious daughter.
As a father, it is my responsibility to help provide for my daughter. Like any parent, I want to give her everything she needs to grow up like my students grow up. I want her to be able to get a quality education, not just academically, but spiritually, socially, and emotionally. I want her to grow up with a yard and a space to play safely. I want her to be surrounded by peers and adults she can respect, admire, and emulate. I want her to be able to help create and benefit from a sense of community. I want her to feel ownership and pride towards the city we choose to call our home.
But as I consider all these things, I worry. My wife worries, too. With both of us working in early childhood education, our wages don’t allow us to have same things that others moving to Nashville have. Each year, I meet new parents coming here from other cities just like we did a few years back. I build friendships and working relationships with them, and learn alongside their wonderful sons and daughters. I strive to provide to them with an invaluable service that I believe they and their children deserve: a loving, supportive, and dedicated environment to learn.
And as I commit myself to providing such an environment to them, I can feel my heart break. My commitment to giving my students what they deserve (and ultimately what their parents pay for) resigns me to having just the opposite for my family. Because nurturing and educating children is my profession of choice, I will not be able to afford to send my daughter to a preschool similar to the one in which I teach.
My students spend the school day venturing into the woods, investigating flora and fauna, and feeling a sense of wonder and admiration towards are natural world. The tragic truth is that my daughter may never get to experience a school day like theirs. My wife and I proudly work to support the newer parents of a rapidly growing Nashville, but somehow being supported in the same way is beyond our means.
Hopefully, it is not beyond our power to change.
In our Great Nation, educators are underpaid. That is the undeniable truth. And one day, if we keep doing what we do and keep striving to make the children of America into strong, confident, curious, empathetic, articulate, and knowledgeable humans, people will start to notice. They will see that we aren’t just teachers, but also children, students, mentors, friends, fathers, and mothers. They will work to make sure teachers are the first to have a place in their community instead of being the first to be priced out.
There is always a teachable moment hidden in any situation of adversity. Gandhi once said “live the change you want to see in the world.” I wholeheartedly believe quality education (from infant care to post-secondary education) should be a right, not a luxury. While commitment to the this belief unfortunately precludes my family from having what it brings, there is solace in knowing that other teachers all over the country feel the same. The difficulties of our lived experience as early childhood educators are not a reason to give up, but are instead a reason to recommit ourselves to excellence in our profession. They are a catalyst for us to try harder with each passing day to make this generation, our daughter’s generation, into the best and brightest our country has ever seen. When enough educators in our city, our state, and our nation feel a similar commitment, things will change. In this Great Nation, that is exactly how real change has to happen.
Here in the woods, I’m holding out hope. Some day soon, my daughter might be able to spend her school day among the trees after all.