Respect is not something that goes hand-in-hand with workers in the early childhood education field. Somewhere along the way, people who teach young children have been cast into the mold of “glorified babysitter” by the majority of the public.
I know this because I’m a preschool teacher, and this is how a typical conversation goes with someone I’ve just met:
What do you do?” a new acquaintance asks.
“I’m a teacher,” I answer.
“A teacher? That’s great! What grade do you teach?”
I reply with a shrug. “I’m a preschool teacher.”
“Oh. A preschool teacher?” (This question is usually asked with a head-tilt and furrowed brow as if I’m suddenly using alien terminology.)
I nod. “Yes. I teach three-, four-, and five-year-olds.”
“So, you’re not in an actual school?” (Translation: So, you’re not an actual teacher?)
“I work in a childcare center.”
“Ah.” Eyes darting away. The new acquaintance shrugs, at a sudden loss for words.
Preschool teachers are not generally accepted by society as “real” teachers. Though a majority of households in the United States will at some point require childcare services for their children, it’s looked at more as a necessary expense than as a profession to respect.
Over the years, I’ve come to accept the general public assumption that because I teach young children, I’m not really a teacher. I’m perceived as more of a glorified babysitter. A nose-wiping, toilet training babysitter.
And though we do wipe hundreds of noses, and clean up thousands of potty accidents in the course of just one day (okay, that may be a slight exaggeration—though sometimes it can feel that way!), our job is so much more than that.
I work in a highly accredited center with extra-high expectations that must be met, with periodic inspections checking up.
(Most of the teachers in my center have 4-year degrees—I have a B.S. in Elementary Education/Early Childhood Education.)
But at times, I admit I’ve let myself feel “less than” because of everyone’s perception of a “real” teacher. Oh, I’m not casting blame or screaming about the unfairness of the world. I take on full responsibility for my own feelings of inadequacy, despite knowing how hard I work and how good I am at my job of being a child’s very first teacher.
And so, I’ve written this list as much for myself as for those who truly don’t know or understand what it means to teach before-school-age children.
5 Reasons Preschool Teachers Are For REAL:
1. Lesson Plans, Conferences, And Report Cards
Most people don’t realize all the planning that goes into teaching preschool-age children. We create lesson plans to send home to our children’s parents weekly. The expectation is that we turn in a copy to our center’s director at least one week ahead … just like a teacher working for a district.
Communication with parents is essential and expected on a daily basis. I share communications with picture attachments daily via email, and new pictures along with an explanation of the day’s activity are hung on a daily sheet that hangs on our Parent Board. Newsletters go out with each unit change. (All this in between serving meals and wiping all those noses!)
We also document our student observations and complete quarterly individual report cards to share with our families.
Conferences are offered several times each year, and we typically stay after our “working hours” to fit them into our busy day.
And on scheduled days off, we have to prepare lesson plans for a substitute teacher to follow.
2. Working Year-Round
Preschool teachers usually work straight through the summer, especially if the classroom is based in a childcare center. There’s no break to “re-group.”
And days off for holidays are at a minimum to accommodate the various parent work schedules. Two days off for Christmas, no spring break, a few scattered holidays.
School is only canceled if there is a foot of snow on the ground. Otherwise, we are expected to be at the center at our regular times whether snow, sleet, or freezing rain.
Not to mention all the planning we do on our off hours—or the mandatory monthly “after-hours” staff meetings.
3. Low Wages
Preschool teachers are paid even less than public school teachers (and do not have the opportunity to achieve tenure in their position). No doubt, all teachers are underpaid. But preschool teachers salaries are at the bottom of the list, earning a small hourly wage with almost non-existent yearly raises in salary.
(Check out https://www.indeed.com/salaries/Daycare-Teacher-Salaries for an estimate in your state. Currently, the average hourly rate for a childcare teacher in Pennsylvania in 2019 is listed as making $10.35/hour.)
4. Academic Expectations
We are charged with getting children kindergarten-ready. Administration and parents both expect it. In the course of a day where we serve three meals, have nap time, and serve as a stand-in parent and nurse for the children in our care, we must also make sure we are hitting all the academic areas and providing STEM activities to reach the educational goals of having each child ready to enter kindergarten with all the knowledge they’ll need to succeed. No small task when dealing with milk spills, tiredness, potty accidents, temper tantrums, and social skills (sprinkled with a huge helping of TLC).
5. Continuing Education
Yes, preschool teachers must meet the requirements (each state’s are different) to continue working in the field. Though many of the required hours are met during staff meetings, there are also after-hours—sometimes Saturday—classes that we must attend to keep our teaching credentials up-to-date. Education—in every field—is always an ongoing process
Now, you’re probably wondering: Why? Why do early childhood educators stay in a job with little respect, low pay, and such high expectations?
There is one simple reason. It’s the same reason any teacher does what they do.
The children in our care need us—and so do their parents. (And sometimes we need them just as much!)
So, the next time you hear someone disrespect an early childhood educator (whether intentionally or unintentionally), it is my hope that you’ll remember this article and look on the profession with a new light.