Early Childhood Education: A Career or a Stepping Stone?
A study and a subsequent article posted on The New America Foundation’s Early Ed Watch blog found small improvements in both the educational attainment and pay of people in the Early Education workforce. I have been in the Early Childhood Education field for over 15 years now and my anecdotal evidence along with what I hear from colleagues in the field mirrors those trends. There is a sense that incremental improvements have been made in terms of salaries and education levels of teachers which have resulted in improvements in the quality of teaching and children’s outcomes. Unfortunately, the advancement in both teacher training and pay continues to move along at a snail’s pace and has a long way to go to meet goals of a well-educated and trained workforce that can provide quality early education access for all. Part of the reason for this is that for many entering the field, Early Education is looked at as a temporary stepping stone and not a career.
In the past five years, whenever a teacher assistant position has opened we have had a flood of candidates who are more than qualified apply for the position. Most of the candidates had Bachelor’s Degrees and some even had Master’s degrees. This is surprising because assistant preschool teacher positions pay hovers around $30,000; but not as shocking when one remembers the scarcity of jobs during the recession. However, in the interview process a persistent theme emerged. The people applying for the position did not intend to stay in the Early Education field. Most had long term goals of becoming an Elementary School Teacher, Occupational Therapist, or some other job related to helping children that has the potential to eventually make a living wage. I have even heard some early educators talk about the goal of eventually getting a “real” teaching job.
All of us in the early education field or anyone who cares about children’s development should be concerned with the stubborn belief that an early educator is a less important cog in our educational system than a K-12 educator. We must use the economic and scientific evidence to change the public and policy-makers’ perceptions about early education and advocate for higher pay. Unless the early education field gets the societal respect and equivalent pay of teachers in the K-12 ages groups, we may never be able to recruit and keep a highly educated and well trained early education workforce.