Cameras in Preschool Classrooms: Who Are They Really Watching?

It is hard to leave your children in the care of others but we have to do it.  We know that a good preschool experience builds socialization skills and self-esteem.  Many parents need child care so they can work to put food on their tables.  Children in developmentally appropriate and play based preschools develop a love of learning that is hard to replicate at home.  There are many reasons that parents seek the best preschool but the decision is not without angst.  Sometimes, parents find comfort when they are shown video cameras in the classrooms.  In some preschools, parents are given internet access to the cameras and in some they are not.  There has been recent controversy about internet access because parents have objected to their own behavior being caught on camera or the behavior of their children being watched by other parents.  Even if this access is not available or becomes less so because of lawsuits about right to privacy, some parents find comfort in the existence of the cameras.  It feels like someone is watching out for their children, but is that why the cameras are really there?

I teach professional development courses for early childhood professionals from all different schools.  More and more as I present ideas for engaging children’s curiosity, teachers tell me that they would love to do everything I present but they are not permitted and they are being watched.  They are forced to do circle times that are too long for even the average adult attention span.  They are forced to make children who are far too young sit with workbooks for 30 minutes or more.  They are not permitted to be creative in their presentation of new concepts.  They are being watched.  They describe school directors sitting in offices watching them all day long and jumping on the chance to admonish them for veering slightly off a scripted curriculum that has been handed to them (which in English translates to “it doesn’t matter what the children are curious about because this is only about making money off of parents’ fears.”)  The teachers repeated report that they are the ones being watched.  

If school administrators cannot trust their teachers, why are your children there?  There is something wrong when adults who have been educated in how to teach children in a developmentally appropriate way need to be scripted and watched.  One might argue that not all preschool teachers are educated in education.   The ability to teach is a skill set.  Teachers are taught about cognitive theories, classroom management, typical behaviors and strategies.  Just because people have knowledge or love children doesn’t mean they are qualified to teach.  But that’s an article for another day.  Suffice it to say, you want to find a preschool with qualified staff.  So again I ask – If you have found a preschool with qualified staff, why does the administration need to watch them all day long?  And if they do not trust their teachers, why do you?

Can you trust your child’s teacher if the school director does not?  It is possible that the teacher is a wonderful person trying to do the right thing for the children.  I meet teachers who are so frustrated by being unable to do what they know should be done with preschoolers.  They know what is good and right but cannot do those things because of the package that has been sold to parents.  Parents today are so afraid.  They are raising children in a test oriented educational society that has everyone worried that their children won’t measure up.  If you want your children to have a foundation for success, you must allow preschools to teach them in a developmentally appropriate environment that fosters a love of learning and builds self-esteem.  This cannot be taught with a script.  This will not happen when your children are frustrated by being asked to sit still too long.  This foundation is impossible to build when your child’s curiosity is invalidated by an adult agenda.  Just like anything else, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.  If cameras are required to ensure that promises made to you happen, then the promises are the problem.

This time of year as many of you shop for preschools, I implore you to ask about the camera systems.  I applaud schools that are protecting your children by having cameras for security.  Unfortunately, we need to deter crime by having visible cameras.  Security is different than mistrust.  Ask the questions – Are these cameras for security only?  Do you watch your teachers during the day?  If you do watch your teachers, why don’t you trust them?


Read this blog for more articles.  Ask your parenting & education questions and learn about early childhood workshops for parents & educators on my website - Helping Kids Achieve
Copyright 2014 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved

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  1. Cindy - as a school principal I feel compelled to respond to this blog post- first to the allegation that any head of an ECD school has either the time or the desire to spend MINDLESS hours watching their teachers at work, on camera. I refute this absolutely. Principals of high caliber can; and do seek out skilled practitioners to manage their classes of children. They do not need to monitor them 24/7 - in fact they do not need to monitor them at all. The greatest asset in any school setting is a team of educators and support staff committed to honouring each and every child in their care. In my current school setting and in many that I have taught in previously management does not police one another. We have far too much respect for each other to ever do that. In my 35 years as a teacher and then in my last 16+ years as a school principal I have only ever seen cameras are installed for one of two reasons: security or to afford helicopter parents 'peace-of-mind' in regards their school of choice and what specifically their children are getting up to during their hours at school.
    I am blessed to head a school community of 180 learners aged 14 months -7 years of age and I have a staff community of 35 adult women and men many of whom have worked with me for over 12 years. 17 of my school staff are teachers and 9 of these passionate practitioners hold education degrees.7 of my staff, in fact hold honours degrees specializing in ECD - I admire them hugely and would never insult them by playing BIG sister and monitor their teaching via camera feeds. We have 12 cameras installed on site and I tell the parents on the weekly school tour that the cameras run in real time and are not recording devices. Their primary role is to allow anxious parents to have a bird's eye view of their child in the class setting and to be assured that they made the right choice - this they can do from the safety of my office on any day at any time if I am not busy with a scheduled meeting. They also serve as security monitors in the event of a security breech.

    As you should know even the little children that display some degree of separation anxiety tend to settle and enjoy their day as soon as their parents are out of their line of vision. The cameras serve to quell any parental fears as they see for themselves how swiftly the children settle because invariably by the time they have reached my office to look at the cameras the child is happily engaged in free play.

    I honour and dignify my teachers and that make it clear from the outset that I entrust them with pivotal roles in the school setting and that I am not a police officer. Management by walking around and meeting and greeting adults and learners alike on a consistent basis is the best way to gauge whether or not your school is a happy place to be.

    As to the teachers that you interact with during teacher training indicating that they are not able to, or even allowed to do the best for their learners due to their 'fear' of being sanctioned by their principals - I am SO GLAD they are not on my payroll - what a bunch of simpering, whimpering fools - really! They are scared to; or unable to fulfill their professional mandate not because there are cameras in their classrooms but because they are inept, incompetent and spineless individuals - they clearly lack the moral fiber to be called teachers in the true sense of the word. You should be challenging and sanctioning them, not us.

    1. I am also a school administrator who started as a teacher. I run a school and would never employee incompetent people nor would I use cameras in the way that I know for a fact some preschools are using them. The situation I describe may not be me or you but it definitely exists. I know the stories I hear to be true. There are preschools, some franchises & corporate chains, who do have their directors doing exactly what I describe. It is a sad state of affairs but it is happening and parents need to think about where they are enrolling their children. They need to look for a developmentally appropriate environment being run appropriately like you and I do. Too often, parents are lulled by promises that address their fears for their children but do not provide a positive environment that gives children a good foundation. Parents should be encouraged to question all of us. They have every right. If I had a dime for every good preschool teacher who ran screaming from those situations and found good places to work.....

  2. We, as school principals, have not just launched ourselves into these management roles - all of us started off as teachers in classrooms. Later on we were selected to lead our peers as we excelled in our roles and continue to do so - as we model best practice at the next level of education - peer-to-peer. Do not be deluded into believing the stories that these teachers have told you. You must remember that despite becoming principals we do not forget what is means to be a teacher - that aspect of our role is ingrained in the very fibre of our being. We are far too busy interacting with parents, teachers and children in the real world - to be sitting staring at cameras all day long. ( Oh! Just by the way: when I ever happen to observe my teachers on camera or in real life - they validate for me the reason why they have the key roles in my school setting - they are wonderful, passionate and creative - crawling around pretending to be dinosaurs or leaping over the jungle gyms like giant frogs with their children in hot pursuit - Here our boys and girls learn through play every day. Feel free to see our school website
    Margot van Ryneveld
    BA, B Ed (Ed Management), HDE (JP/PP), Dip Comp
    Stepping Stones Pre-Primary School – Sandton, South Africa.

    1. You and I need to educate parents to look for people and places like our centers and not those who practice what I describe and know to be happening. (see comment above).

  3. Teachers have the responsibility to either change their teaching to fit the job description they accepted or to present the administration with evidence of a better way of doing things. No one should be afraid for their work to be witnessed by their supervisor. (Context: I am an ECE teacher who also teaches ECE professional development and college courses.)

    1. Also, my philosophy is very much holistic, child-directed, play/experiential-based, Reggio, Te Whariki, Dewey, Bruner, Vygotsky, Piaget...... And I like to fight for what I believe in. And usually I find out it's not as much a fight as an info session. Parents who believe their children need the traditional academic model have rarely been presented with rationale for the alternative way - the way (above) that we know is appropriate not only for development but also for a happy and successful life.


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