To the Editor:
At the end of the early-childhood-education classes I teach, we discuss issues related to professionalism. Recently, this conversation with one of my students took an unexpected turn when she asked me if she was a “real” teacher.
I asked her what she meant by real teacher.
I knew that my student had worked at a child-care center in a preschool room for a couple of years. She was halfway through an associate degree in our applied science degree program.
She waved her hand at me and said: “You know, a real teacher. Aren’t we just babysitters who call themselves teachers?”
I told her that early-childhood teachers make developmentally appropriate lesson plans. They have studied Jean Piaget, Howard Gardner, Lev Vygotsky, and Erik Erikson. They know about typical child development. They know how to make a referral. They individualize care. They know how to communicate with families, keep children safe, and help them reach their potential.
Of course they are real teachers.
But I missed the point.
I was so caught up in preparing and ensuring that my students acted like professionals that I skipped over the fact that they are not treated as professionals.
How could she feel like a “real” teacher if she was making $9 an hour with little prospect of increased wages after finishing a degree? Don’t real teachers receive benefits from their employers?
Early-childhood teachers are working within a very critical window of brain development. We know that what happens during the early years can shape the trajectory of a person’s life. Yet, we treat the teachers of young children as if they weren’t professionals or worthy of a life outside of poverty. I tell my students that they are professionals, but our society doesn’t treat them as professionals.
I tell them that their work is undervalued. I tell them that I think there is hope for change. But is hope enough?
Sarah B. Smith
Gateway Community and Technical College
A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as Are Early-Childhood Educators ‘Real’ Teachers? You Bet They Are.