Upon returning to work after my third child and accepting a position to assist in monitoring program implementation in the field on a national level, my husband and I searched our area for the best childcare/preschool/early learning center for our three year old. As a professional in the field, I looked for a program that was accredited by the state childcare licensing office and the state department of education. I knew that in our particular state, these organizations hold the highest requirements for early childhood professionals. After visiting several preschools, meeting teachers and directors and following up on the credentials that each preschool claimed to have; we finally settled on a school. This school was accredited by the state department of education and childcare licensing organizations. My daughter appeared to be happy and content. She settled into a regular routine and seemed to like her teacher. Then one day, after only a month of attendance, while doing a one on one activity at home, she became very quiet. Then, with a very sad face and on the verge of tears, told me that her teacher did not love her. While trying to refrain from tears and anger myself, because no three year old should ever feel this way, I began to assure her that she did and asked why she felt this way. She began to state a list of issues as a very grown up three year old. I was pretty impressed with the language and thoughts she used to correlate love. As a parent, I felt a sense of pride knowing that my husband and I were doing our job, at the very least, by showing and giving our children a love that a three year old could convey. I was furious with the thought that she was feeling this way and possibly being treated unfairly. She told me that her teacher never gave her hugs and kisses and often hugged the other children in the class. She also stated that the teacher never worked with her and worked with everyone else in the classroom. She also indicated a few names of the children in the class that her teacher would hold hands and take for special walks. As an early childhood professional, I knew of the negative social, emotional and future academic ramifications this could cause. Hoping for the best, I emailed the teacher a friendly letter just to make her aware of the situation. I wanted her to respond immediately and tell me that she did in fact love my child and that she wasn’t sure why my daughter felt that way but that she would make sure to give her extra hugs and kisses. I never received a response.
On paper, reading that a lead teacher in a preschool classroom requires that you have a bachelor’s degree and at least a minor in early childhood education; or to be the lead caregiver in an infant classroom requires a Child Development credential all looks great. In many cases it is a good starting point for someone who is serious about the field and whose supervisor offers opportunities for professional development regularly; including modeling and constant supervision of classroom activities. This is typically not the case. Directors are required to manage program implementation, parental concerns and are often plagued by meeting company financial quotas through fiscal management and marketing; not to mention complying with state licensing regulations (which are often only carried out fully during inspections). Daily monitoring of curriculum implementation and overall classroom climate often take a back seat to other “more important” issues as dictated by private companies. This usually equates to enrollment, which yields more money for the company and the director, but not the individuals directly involved with daily classroom routines.
Additionally, in my professional travels I have found few teachers that truly desire to be in these early childhood settings. Many teachers, because of the easy access to jobs in early childhood, are there due to convenience. Often, directors have to quickly fill teaching positions because of high turnover. They usually have to hire those individuals that apply as soon as possible due to state licensing and child care regulations. Let’s not forget the fact that licensing regulations don’t require many stipulations for caring for our country’s youngest citizens. In one state, those considered early childhood professionals, at minimum, are required to have a 90 hour course, a year of experience and be 19 years old. The 90 hour course covers early childhood development and curriculum and materials in the early childhood classroom. This is simply not enough to expect a 19 year old, that, in most cases doesn’t have children of her own, to be responsible for creating an early childhood environment utilizing the best practices in the field to positively influence the growth and development of young children. Coupled with low pay and benefits, it does not surprise me of the poor care our children are receiving. I have often heard professionals at the highest level of governance in this field say, “Just give them a curriculum. Any half-knowledgeable person can read a curriculum and implement it.” What these individuals fail to realize is that early childhood education, like all areas of education, is much more than implementing a curriculum. Even with the best curriculum, teachers without a true understanding of how children learn will ultimately have major problems in their attempts to “teach” young children. They lack the knowledge of how to individualize lessons for children to make it most meaningful to them. They don’t quite understand how to use the environment to “teach” and prevent behavioral problems. They don’t know and appreciate that above all, a positive classroom climate, one in which puts a child’s social and emotional domain of development first, is needed most to truly get our youngest learners on the path to a lifelong love of learning.
A week after bringing the situation to the attention of the preschool director, the teacher in my child’s classroom was fired. Apparently, the teacher had other issues that were not going unnoticed. Unfortunately, she will most likely, with her credentials, have no problem getting a job in another preschool.
With the nation embarking on a new way to educate our future, I do hope that the issue of early childhood is examined on a deeper scale than in the past. Recent attempts to fix surface problems have not been successful. Without immediate intervention, studies are indicating a very a troublesome future.