Preschool Teachers Face Changes as Early Education Gains Attention

The early years are important. People are becoming aware of the big impact early influences can have on academic success later in life. That means more attention is being paid to preschool -- and preschool teachers are adapting to this changing role.

"This is a positive thing for those interested in entering early childhood careers," says John Cartafalsa. He is a professor of early childhood development at National University's school of education in La Jolla, California.

"School districts hire individuals with advanced degrees and offer higher salaries with stronger benefits. Also, this is a boon for collaboration between community colleges and four-year higher education institutions, since the focus will be on obtaining academic degrees in order to be hired," explains Cartafalsa.

In a young child's life, social, psychological and educational forces pave the way to future accomplishments.

"Consequently...parents are being more visible and vocal in the academic happenings of their children from pre-kindergarten through grade 12," Cartafalsa says.

"Pending federal and state legislation is insisting...on higher quality early childhood programs with better trained directors, teachers and teacher aides."

Pushing for Mandatory Preschool

Preschool teachers introduce children ages three to six to education through songs, games, stories and art. These and other activities help children develop language and vocabulary, enhance their social skills and learn basic math and science concepts.

"Teachers should love to be with and impact children, be good learners, good observers, and have inquiring minds," says Carolyn Brown. She is an adjunct professor in the department of speech pathology and audiology at the University of Iowa, Coralville.

"They should understand and appreciate the importance of engaging children in language and learning activities. And be willing to learn whatever they have to [to] do this successfully."

Armed with the knowledge about the importance of early brain development, parents are pushing harder for universal preschool laws. In the U.S., a few states have mandatory preschool for four-year-olds as well as all-day kindergarten. But this is not the case nationwide.

"Parents want their children to participate in quality early experiences which will make them ready to enter kindergarten and the academic community. And they want the school districts in which they reside to provide for these experiences," Cartafalsa says.

Linda Leone is an instructor in the early childhood care and education department at a college. "Studies conducted over the past 30 years have demonstrated the value of early childhood education. Parents are concerned that their children may not be prepared for elementary school without a preschool experience," says Leone.

There is demand for quality preschools for working parents, and a need to close the "achievement gap" in school performance between rich and poor students. These are also key factors in the growing interest in preschool education, says Brown, the co-founder of Breakthrough to Literacy program.

Mary Henthorne is an instructor in the early childhood education program at Western Wisconsin Technical College in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She explains that children today are entering kindergarten from diverse backgrounds, from child care to home care.

Through a mandatory preschool program, all four-year-old children would be equally and better prepared for kindergarten.

"There is also much diversity in regard to the quality of programs," Henthorne says. "If four-year-old children are given the same opportunities and basically taught the same curriculum, the diversity should definitely be reduced...

"If preschool becomes mandatory, the demand for teachers with early childhood bachelor's degrees will increase significantly."

Breaking into Preschool Teaching

Licensing requirements for preschool teachers vary by state and district. In some states, preschool teachers are required to have a bachelor's degree in early childhood education. Others require an associate's degree, and still others require certification by a nationally recognized authority.

In the school setting, preschool teachers typically begin as assistant teachers. They may advance from there to become teachers and then working as lead teachers.

Low wages may discourage people from entering education as a preschool teacher. With more awareness of the importance of preschool, however, there is a promise of higher wages.

"National state and local associations are making it known that the field of early childhood education is an attractive one with an increase in status and recognition as a profession," Cartafalsa says.

"[This comes] with the promise of higher salaries, stronger benefits, higher standards of living, a promise of self-fulfillment and a strong feeling of making an impact on the...children's climate."

To earn the highest wages possible for this field, students need to get the best training and education they can, Brown advises.

Seek an early childhood bachelor's degree to make sure the needs of four-year-olds are met at their developmental level, Henthorne suggests.

"I encourage our students to become politically active, to join their professional associations to advocate for a fair wage," Leone says.

"Parent fees alone cannot support quality child care or preschool centers. Governments need to make policy changes and commit to investing in young children and their families. This would strengthen the workforce as well as ensure children are safe."

Opportunities for men to work as preschool teachers are the same for women, if not greater, according to Henthorne.

"Programs like to hire men for that 'male figure' that so many children don't have in single parent homes," Henthorne says.

"Just like with women, men can be hired to assist in a school system and receive that level of pay. But if they don't go on to further their education, usually they cannot make enough money to support a family."

"The men I have met who have chosen this field are very self-assured and have made a decision to work in a non-traditional field, sort of like women going into firefighting," says Leone.


National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Provides news and resources on early childhood education

National Head Start Association (NHSA)
Find information on training, programs and research

Contains resources for college students studying early childhood education

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