227 – “Half the teacher I once was”: Ohio early childhood educators describe their mental well-being during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic

Presentation - ECV2022-227

“Half the teacher I once was”: Ohio early childhood educators describe their mental well-being during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic

Amy Wolfe, Ohio University, USA (amy.wolfe@ohio.edu)
Tiffany Rowland, University of Toledo, USA (tiffany.rowland@rockets.utoledo.edu)
Jennifer Blackburn, Blooming View Montessori Academy, USA

Background: While other sectors worked remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio’s early childhood education and care (ECEC) workforce risked their health to care for and educate children, including school-aged children who needed adult support while school buildings were closed and parents worked. Despite similarities between ECEC and pre K-12 workforce contributions to society, there were wide disparities between them in demands and support during the first year of the pandemic which were perceived as inequitable by the ECEC workforce.

Aim: This study explores early childhood education and care (ECEC) educators’ descriptions of their mental well-being during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus emerged from an unexpectedly rich theme found through a broader qualitative study initially undertaken to understand ECEC employee perceptions of inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine among Ohio educators.

Method: The research team designed a voluntary, anonymous Qualtrics questionnaire which included 20 questions: 12 demographic, four yes/no, and four open-ended. IRB determined this study was exempt based on minimal risks. Participants were recruited using state-wide and regional professional email lists and social media. The first prompt on the questionnaire solicited informed consent and those who agreed to participate were presented the survey. Open-ended questions were coded multiple times to establish inter-rater reliability and identify themes.

Results: Participants reported work-related negative mental well-being effects 141 times in the narratives, although relief in returning to work was coded 26 times. The following stressors strained participant mental well-being: Making decisions to keep people safe, the struggle to find cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, financial concerns, lack of control, the inability to social distance due to the nature of caregiving, isolation, and feeling mentally and physically exhausted. A single positive impact on mental well-being from returning to work was evident in participant responses.

Conclusions: ECEC educators’ well-being, while under-examined in the literature, not only is of importance to the individual teachers, but is linked to healthy relationships and positive outcomes for children and retention in the workforce. Disparities in well-being between ECEC teachers and other professions were evident before the pandemic and can be partially attributed to their poor working conditions. The COVID-19 crisis further strained ECEC educators’ mental well-being.

Implications for children and families: The well-being of your child’s educator is important because educators who are mentally and physically well provide better care, higher quality education, and are better able to support children’s overall growth and development.

Implications for practitioners: Your physical and mental well-being matter, not only for your well-being, but for each child’s optimal growth and development and should be prioritized by policymakers.

Key words: professionals’ voices, workforce issues, wellbeing, health, policy, government, vulnerable communities

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

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