- This study examined four occupational health risks that contribute to job strain, the experience of infectious disease, musculoskeletal strain, job dissatisfaction, and depressive symptoms, for toddler teachers as predictors of classroom quality. Both the physical and social settings of early care and education (ECE) are influential in shaping children’s early experiences, and it is the adults who shape this environment. Yet, quality improvement initiatives focus on improving teaching practices to augment child development and are not focused on the health and well-being of the ECE workforce as a way to support children. Research has identified several specific sources of occupational health risks that contribute to job strain for ECE teachers. Infectious diseases and musculoskeletal strain are related to job quality in other care-related professions (e.g., Gustafsson & Marklund, 2011). Within ECE, preschool teachers who experience mental and emotional job strain (Li Grining, Raver, Champion, Sardin, Metzger, & Jones,2010) and/or depressive symptoms (e.g., Hamre & Pianta, 2004) also experience decreased work quality, as defined through lower classroom quality. Exploring ways in which toddler teachers’ health and well-being is associated with classroom quality is needed to better understand how teachers support children’s learning.
Forty-four toddler teachers working in center-based classrooms with children aged 15-36 months participated in this study. The quality of the classroom was observed using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System—Toddler (CLASS-T; La Paro Hamre, & Pianta, 2012). Teachers reported on their experience of infectious diseases, symptoms of musculoskeletal strain,job dissatisfaction, and depressive symptoms. I hypothesized that higher levels of toddler teacher physical and psychological job strain would be associated with classrooms scoring lower in teachers’emotional and behavioral support for children, as well as their engaged support for learning within center-based toddler classrooms.
In general, toddler classrooms were observed to be of low-mid to mid-quality. Teachers reported experiencing a range of physical strain including an average of just over three job-related symptoms of musculoskeletal strain, and 2.39 infectious diseases within the past 6-month period. Additionally, in alignment with past research (e.g., Whitaker et al., 2015), 23% of teachers in the current study reported clinical level depressive symptoms (16 or higher on the CES-D; Radloff, 1977). Regression models did not reveal a significant association between physical or psychological job strain and classroom quality. However, the full regression model for job dissatisfaction including teacher age predicted significant variance in one domain of classroom quality, engaged support for learning. Implications for practice and future directions are discussed.