Editorial: Early childhood educators are an unappreciated workforce

BY
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

Every student has at least one teacher that has made an impact on their academic experience and possibly overall life. Specifically, early childhood educators shape the way in which you learn for your continued educational experiences.

Did you realize that these early experiences shaped your development throughout life? As you transition into parenthood, you hope your children are impacted by their teachers just as you were. We hope that your educators were engaged, knowledgeable and positive. We are confident that every parent wants the best for their children today. However, teachers are underappreciated in our society and that lack of morale is affecting our children’s education.

Early childhood educators are responsible for the development of each child’s foundational social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language skills. Why does our country still look at early childhood teachers as babysitters rather than qualified professionals? The problem is that the education wage system is set so that all teachers earn an equal amount regardless of time in the profession or additional certifications and degrees. Simply, the pay is too small for what is expected of them. If we believe that our children are the future of science, technology, art, mathematics and literature then we need to support and motivate the teachers that begin their path.

Everyone wants our nation’s children to be healthy and successful with opportunities to achieve from infancy into adulthood. If we want the best for our children, we need to look into the quality of their teachers and the incentives given to motivate their work. According to a new report released by the Economic Policy Institute in early November of this year, early child care workers’ median hourly wage is $10.31, which is 39.3 percent lower than the median hourly wage of workers in other occupations. The report states that only 15 percent of child care workers receive health insurance from their jobs, and only 9.6 percent are covered by a pension plan from their job, both statistics drastically lower than workers in other occupations.

In an article written in 2003, preschool teachers made an average annual salary of $21,332, which is less than half of the salary than that of a Kindergarten teacher. Even more shocking, that average salary is less than the salary of janitors, secretaries and other jobs requiring only a high school diploma. Do you believe that an educator who is responsible for molding the minds of the future, should be valued less than a janitor?

A study on early childhood educators looked at whether teachers experienced an increase in wages and benefits after obtaining higher degrees. It also noted if an increase in pay and benefits maximized job satisfaction and a teacher’s intent to remain in the profession. The results showed “teachers and providers felt they did not receive recognition as a professional.” Although many participants felt that their job is meaningful and important, “external rewards and recognition of their professional roles and responsibilities was missing.” Most importantly, higher compensation was not provided. Due to these results, “many teachers said that low wages were a reason to consider finding other work.” It is important to note that requiring or even encouraging early childhood educators to obtain proper training and qualifications is not addressing the issue of low wages. As a society we should strive to have highly educated teachers caring for our youngest children, but the fact that they are some of lowest paid professionals are driving them away.

To make a change, here’s what can be done. Policy makers can educate themselves and others on the issue and advocate for policies that support higher benefits and compensations for educators. There is a lot of research being done on the topic and policy makers need to stay aware of the current findings and use it to effectively advocate.

Teachers can educate themselves on their own qualifications and experiences to ensure that they are receiving a comparable wage to that of other professionals in the workforce. Teachers should be in communication with other teachers and their administration to understand more about their salary to voice their concerns. Teacher candidates, when you are considering a job offer, make yourself aware of the school’s benefits, pension plans and salary.

Remind yourselves of your own qualifications after earning this degree and how important that knowledge is when shaping the minds of your future students.

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