NAEYC Member Spotlight: Tessie Ragan
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Family Child Care Provider Edwards Air Force Base, California
Tessie Ragan comes from a long line of educators. Her mother was a military family child care provider, and her grandmother taught public elementary school in Queens, New York. So for Tessie, the inspiration to teach came naturally—and early. “When I was 5 years old, I decided that I wanted to join the military and to be a teacher when I retired,” she remembers.
And that’s exactly what Tessie did. A four-year veteran of the US Air Force, she has been working in early childhood education since leaving the military in 2005. While pursuing her degree (and moving frequently with her military family), she held “a multitude of jobs” in the field, serving as a teacher’s aide for a child with Down syndrome, as a Kindermusik teacher, and as a tutor. She eventually landed in the role that continues to feel most like home: working as a family child care and education provider, first in Germany (where her Air Force husband was stationed) and now in the United States.
Tessie’s interest in family child care was sparked by a discovery early in her studies. “I found that there was a gap,” she says. “Parents had to pick between high-quality care and affordable care. And usually the children whose parents had to pick affordable care, . . . they were the kids who were constantly behind, no matter what. I felt like I could be one of those people that filled that gap.”
After returning from Germany and completing her bachelor’s degree in birth through kindergarten education from Western Carolina University in 2012, Tessie initially opened a family child care and education business in Maryland. Currently, she runs a preschool/ pre-K program from her home on Edwards Air Force Base, in the high desert in Southern California. She relishes the opportunity home- based care gives her to build deep relationships with children in a smaller setting. “With a big center, there can be a lot of turnover. Sometimes the parents don’t get to know the provider or teacher as well because the teacher has moved on,” Tessie says. “But I have these kids for two or three years, and they stay with me the whole time. They have more stability.”
As Tessie well knows, family child care and education is not without its challenges. It can be hard to find balance when your work involves bringing children into your home. Tessie closed her first home-based program in Germany when her husband deployed because she knew she wouldn’t be able to provide the high-quality learning environment the children deserved while also making sure her own children’s needs were met. “You need to make sure there’s space in your home for your family, and you need to make sure that you are building in enough time so that you don’t get burned out trying to be everything for your clients,” she shares.
Tessie also acknowledges that she has to work harder to be respected by those who think of family care providers as “babysitters.” She often has to explain her qualifications and work to skeptical parents. But Tessie takes inspiration from knowing that she is working every day to accomplish her vision. “I was able to create a program that parents could afford where the children are actually more than ready for kindergarten. They love learning, and they love science and engineering, and they love reading. I am super proud.”
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