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Early care and education (ECE) settings are influential in shaping children’s early experiences. To date, many initiatives to improve ECE settings and optimize child development outcomes are focused on improving teaching practices with little attention to improving the health and well-being of the ECE workforce. Yet, occupational health risks in the ECE setting may affect ECE teachers’ health and well-being, their job performance (i.e., teaching quality), and ultimately child development. Thus, it behooves researchers to understand how occupational conditions in ECE settings influence teachers’ health and performance.
As illustrated in the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model (Demerouti et al., 2001), high job demands can deplete employees’ mental, emotional, and physical resources, leading to job strain. Job strain is associated with impaired work performance. For instance, in other care-related professions, exposure to infectious diseases and musculoskeletal strain were related to poorer job quality (Gustafsson & Marklund, 2011), and preschool teachers who experienced emotional job strain, such as depressive symptoms, had classrooms lower in quality (Hamre & Pianta, 2004; Li Grining et al., 2010). Job resources include aspects of a job that reduce demands, stimulate personal growth and development, and help employees function to meet work goals (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). For example, in ECE, teacher autonomy was linked to classroom quality (Cassidy et al., 2017), and child care director’s level of support has been positively correlated with teachers’ job satisfaction (Yuh & Choi, 2017). Yet, ways in which these two components (i.e., job strain and resources) of the JD-R model operate in tandem to create quality learning environments for toddlers is largely unknown.
Forty-four toddler teachers working in center-based classrooms with children aged 15-36 months participated in this study (see Table 1). The quality of the classroom was observed using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System—Toddler (CLASS-T; La Paro et al., 2012) over one day. Two domains of quality were created: Engaged Support for Learning (ESL; α = .88) and Emotional and Behavioral Support (EBS; α = .94). We assessed teachers’ physical job strain via number of infectious diseases and symptoms of musculoskeletal strain over the past 6 months; emotional job strain was measured with job dissatisfaction and depressive symptoms (CES-D; Radloff, 1977). For job resources, teachers rated their perceptions of supervisor support (1=Very much, 4=Not at all) and job autonomy (I have to do things that I think should be done differently, 1=Very accurate, 4=Very inaccurate; Hurrell & McLaney, 1988).
Teachers reported experiencing a range of job strain (see Table 2). For example, 23% of teachers reported clinical level depressive symptoms. Preliminary regression models examined the main effects of job strain and job resources on classroom quality. Models indicate significant associations between teacher autonomy and EBS (β = 0.44, p = .002) and ESL (β = 0.53, p < .001), as well as job dissatisfaction and ESL (β = -0.31, p = .04). Via additional regression models, we will explore whether job resources (e.g., job autonomy) buffers ECE teachers’ job strain (e.g., high job dissatisfaction), thereby enhancing classroom quality.