Opinion
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor

Are Early-Childhood Educators ‘Real’ Teachers? You Bet They Are.

May 12, 2015 1 min read

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

Program Coordinator

Early-Childhood Education

Gateway Community and Technical College

Covington, Ky.

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.

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