Sometimes there seems to be a disconnect between educators who work with children prior to elementary school and those who teach in the early grades, but new survey results suggests that K-3 teachers share strong affinity with the educators who work with younger children.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC, recently released results from a nationally representative survey of more than 530 current or recent K-3 teachers. The group also conducted online, in-depth qualitative interviews with 14 K-3 teachers who were not part of the survey.
On average, two-thirds of the teachers who were surveyed viewed themselves as “early-childhood educators.” The numbers were highest among kindergarten teachers, with 93 percent agreeing with that statement, while it dropped to 52 percent among 3rd grade teachers.
The results suggest that the perceived divide between these groups is not as wide as many believe, said Lauren Hogan, NAEYC’s senior director of public policy and advocacy who managed the polling for the project.
“My sense from this research is that K-3 teachers want to be attached to and included in ‘early-childhood education’ because they understand that it’s about a child’s development across multiple domains—cognitive, social-emotional, physical, etc.—and they know how much the young kids they work with need and will thrive with that developmentally appropriate approach,” said Hogan in an email.
From a survey of kindergarten-to-3rd grade teachers on issues affecting early educators:
“Teachers who are working with children from birth to age 5 ... should have the same level of education, training, and certification that a public school teacher has. They are laying the first block of educational foundation, so they should be knowledgeable as well as certified.”
“I don’t think it needs to be the same as my level, as there is less vigorous content knowledge required for this level of teaching.”
“If it will be a requirement for teachers who teach birth to 5 years of age to have the same education as myself, then they need to get paid the same amount as well. How are they going to pay off student loans making $11 per hour?”
“It’s important to know developmental norms of all ages and stages, but [in] a licensure program that is birth-grade 3, [it] seems like you’d cover a lot of surface level ideas and not get to deep learning for all ages and stages.”
Source: National Association for the Education of Young Children
The survey also found that 76 percent of K-3 teachers supported the creation of a unified and aligned system of early-childhood education from birth to age 8.
There are broader factors that underlie the lack of alignment between pre-K and the early elementary grades. In many cases, preschool is not part of a public K-12 system, and preschool may include both private and public programs, with significantly different education and skills requirements, as well as pay scales.
Catherine Howat, a kindergarten teacher at Dommerich Elementary School in Maitland, Fla., was not part of the survey but says she supports a unified system and considers herself to be an early-childhood educator.
“Early-childhood education with 5-year-olds encompasses their social-emotional, their fine motor, it’s definitely everything that’s developmentally appropriate for these youngsters,” said Howat. “Children that attend a high-quality pre-K program come in ready with foundational skills.”
She said it’s important for teachers of very young children, preschoolers, and those in the early grades to be “working together on the same concepts or same ideas and same principles of what is important to prepare children for school from birth to five-years-old.”
Elizabeth Valle, one of the owners of Atala Montessori School for Creative Expression in Homestead, Fla., who also teaches toddlers as young as 15 months in the private school that goes up to 8th grade, says she definitely feels a connection with teachers from K-3.
Early preparation is crucial for children making the transition to the lower elementary classrooms “because depending how rich the curriculum and how much they get exposed to different experiences, they will take that to 1st and 2nd grade,” said Valle. “There is a strong relationship [between] toddlers to elementary.”
Those surveyed indicated that a unified and aligned system has several potentially important outcomes such as more developmentally appropriate standards for students (92 percent) and higher wages for teachers (88 percent).
Kindergarten teachers showed the most support for a unified system with 87 percent in favor of it. But that support drops off significantly among 2nd and 3rd grade teachers, to 71 and 69 percent respectively.
The survey also questioned the teachers about their thoughts on preparation programs. A small majority (54 percent) thought early-childhood educators should be required to have a four-year degree.
Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed viewed their pre-service training as “excellent” or “pretty good.” Of those who rated their preparation as “excellent,” 35 percent were certain they would stay in the profession. Only 24 percent of those who rated their preparation as “pretty good” said the same, and that number dropped to 21 percent of those who rated their preparation as “only fair/poor.”
Hogan said she found that correlation intriguing and wanted to know if teachers who described their training as excellent were more likely to remain in the profession long-term or if excellent training could influence a teacher’s commitment to the classroom.
The survey was conducted by a team of researchers including Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Mertz & Associates (FM3) and Public Opinion Strategies with support from the Richard W. Goldman Family Foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2018 edition of Education Week as Survey of K-3 Teachers Captures Affinity With Pre-K Colleagues