Are Early Childhood Educators Real Teachers?

Head shot of Ijumaa with power point slide shots

Overview of the professional development sessions:

It was my pleasure to facilitate three professional development sessions on Reflective Practice. Early childhood educators who work throughout San Mateo County, California attended these session. Experience ranged from a few years to over 30 years working with children and families as classroom teachers. Many were new to the idea of reflective thinking and practice, but were eager to engage in the work. This professional development is unique in that we worked in a community of practice model.

There is a field work component where participants offer a play experience to children and document the play with pictures and anecdotal notes. They return to the next session and share their documentation with group to discuss and analysis using the Thinking Lens (c). This particular session, educators were offered sand trays and explored children’s learning schemas.

Sand tray with loose parts #1

Sand tray with loose parts #2

Are Preschool Teachers real teachers?

The conversation that has stuck with me is the struggle some early childhood educators have in being viewed as competent professionals educators by teachers in elementary school, families they work with, and their own families.

Glorified babysitters or not real teachers compared to K-12 educators are common stereotypes of early childhood educators. This stereotype is based in the sexist idea that work historically done by women such as childrearing and educating children doesn’t take any particular skill or specialized education. This belief is false. Understanding child development and implementing curriculum that supports healthy development is complex emotionally, physically, and intellectually. It’s not work everyone can do or should do and being a particular gender is not a prerequisite.

Early childhood educators work with small children but don’t do small work.

Early childhood educators who work with children in their early years of development are different from K-12 educators because the developmental and learning needs of younger children are different. Young children need and deserve educators who understand and support their “care and education”. A small example of what early childhood educators need to know are: how to change a diaper, how to support children’s cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development. Also, how to make and sustain healthy relationships with themselves, children, families, and co-workers, in addition to health and safety regulations.

Early childhood educators have the honor of being the first adult outside of their families that children learn from and with. Research has shown the rapid brain development that happens in the early years and the importance of the all the adults in their lives to make sure development happens at an optimal rate for the child. Being an early childhood educator is not an occupation for someone without skill or knowledge.

 Early education deserves respect and a worthy wage.

Since early childhood educators are skillful and knowledgable they deserve a worthy wage. This is not the reality for educators in general and early childhood educators in particular. Early childhood teachers are some of the lowest paid people in the county. The pay is not a reflection of the worth of the educator but a reflection of the low value society puts on women and educating young children. I am a firm believer in the #worthywage movement. Early educators deserve better wages, work conditions and respect for the work that they do.

Be Proud!

I encouraged the early childhood educators to look at their commitment to professional growth. They formed a community of practice by showing up multiple Saturdays to explore reflective practice. I asked them to remember the documentation and the stories that were shared about the wonderful children their program. Also, how they improved their documentation skills and seeing children fully through working together in a community of practice.

And I saw them walk out that room as the true professionals they are.

Group shot of Ijumaa and the participants of the Reflective Teaching Community of Practice 2017

Yes, Early Childhood Educators are REAL Teachers!