SUSAN BATES is calling for early childhood teachers to participate in a research project aimed at gauging conditions, expectations and experiences of ECE teachers in New Zealand, in the context of their health and well-being.

Health and well-being are two of the most important areas of concern for societies both local and global. The effect of deterioration in physical and mental health has far-reaching consequences for the wealth of communities in dollar expenditure, but also in social capital. While it can be argued that not enough attention has been paid to child health in early childhood education, even less is paid to teachers. Their well-being has received scant attention from governments and academics.  The physical and mental health of teachers and carers has a direct influence on children during the most crucial stage of their learning, habits and socio-emotional development.

Early childhood educators are exposed to a wide range of childhood infectious diseases, repeatedly.  They suffer from various disorders of the joints and muscles, some of which require surgery, particularly after long years of service in the sector.  Stress is often a major contributor to illness, depleting the immune system, contributing to injuries and leading to anxiety and depression. Stress management is partly individual, but also affected by the organisational culture of a workplace and adherence to employment laws. Stress management should be considered in teacher training and in government policies.

The problems of teacher health in relation to working conditions and the lack of research apply world-wide. The work of ECE teachers can be rewarding, cognitively stimulating and joyful. Many workplaces reflect and work hard to maintain these attitudes.  It is often not recognised that the job is also physically demanding, requiring heavy and repetitive tasks, it is emotionally draining, and can be frustrating and detrimental in terms of the many relationships, surveillance, accountability and regulatory expectations.  Most teachers work far more than their paid hours, they are underpaid, and have few options to further careers in the sector. The quality of working conditions and understanding of employment laws varies widely across the sector.

Mindful of the lack of research in this area, particularly where teachers are asked to tell their own stories, I have undertaken a research project to gauge the conditions, expectations and experiences of teachers in ECE in NZ in the context of their health and well-being. I hope it will highlight the conditions that work for teachers and their children, and those which do not. It is an anonymous survey of 72 questions aimed at any teacher or carer currently employed in the sector.

The project has ethics approval from NZ Ethics. The study needs contributions from teachers in good health, poor health, good conditions and not so good.  The hope is that all early childhood teachers/carers, in-training, qualified or not, will take the time to respond.

ECE teachers can find the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Z2F8RXR

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