Opinion Piece by Erica Woloszynski “Vote No On bill H.507 “An Act Relative to Pre-School Teachers”
*Note: below is a reprinted letter from Erica Woloszynski which was sent to Brookline’s state Representative Tommy Vitolo.
Dear Representative Vitolo,
I am so glad I was able to meet you at your most recent “Visit with Vitolo,” and I especially appreciated the tweets! I wanted to tell you about my background and mention some issues that are pressing for me as a constituent.
Currently I am on my third year working in Applied Behavioral Analysis, primarily for children on the Autism Spectrum. Previous to this job I spent three years working in early childhood education. Between the two I have worked with children ages 0-7 years old in public schools, private centers, clinical settings and their homes; this experience has given me a great deal of insight into the issues (and of course joys!) which affect the provision of early childhood education and services.
Recently Representative Jones of North Reading introduced bill H.507 “An Act Relative to Pre-School Teachers” which would create a commission to study bachelor’s degree requirements for PS teacher in Massachusetts. While this bill was referred to the education committee and it has not yet progressed, I wanted to express my opposition to the idea and outline the reasons behind it.
While it may seem intuitive to increase education requirements for preschool teachers as we take the field more seriously, this is not likely to have a positive impact and could have serious negative implications. During my time in the field I have seen educators with varying levels of higher education, and while there is certainly value to holding a degree specifically in early education, there is little value to a general bachelor’s requirement.
The most important skills early educators can possess are much more related to patience, creativity and persistence than to reading dense material and producing written works on the basis of it. I myself became a much better educator and therapist not because of my classes, only a handful of which were related to education, but through direct supervision and support from mentors. Like many other fields, early education is suited to an apprenticeship type of learning. I needed guidance in applying what I did know, with feedback and discussion to collaborate on best practices. My bachelor’s degree did not provide me any of that.
This leads me to the detrimental affects of a requirement: there is already a stark difference between those who work in early education and care (mainly women of color) and those who are in positions of relative power in the field like education coordinator/supervisor/director (mainly white women). The reason for this is the disparity in who goes to college and for what: many of my co-workers were black and Hispanic women who were still getting their community college associate degrees while working full time, whereas I and other white women had families pay for us to go to school full-time. This was not reflective of who was a better teacher, only who had better resources. Placing a degree requirement would not only make it harder for women of color to achieve pay parity in the field, but it would erase all the career gains these women will have made as a result of receiving their associate’s degree. It would de-value the decades of work many of these women have put into working with children for low wages and little growth opportunity. Further, there is already an enormous issue with teacher retention in early education and doing anything to decrease the supply of educators will negatively impact children and families.
Finally, holding a degree in early childhood education confers the lowest lifetime earnings potential of any bachelor’s degree, while college costs are still sky-rocketing. It is immoral and irresponsible to saddle people with significant student debt only to reward them with poverty-level wages. This contributes heavily to teacher turn-over as it is impossible to pay off student debt on these wages, particularly in high cost of living areas like Brookline and Massachusetts in general.
I hope my thoughts have been helpful in explaining why a degree requirement would make it even harder to work and succeed in this vitally important field.
Thank you again for the care and attention with which you approach your office, it is refreshing in an elected official and makes me optimistic about the future.