A career in early childhood education can be really misunderstood by other professionals, friends and even family. It is a profession that is also grossly undervalued by society given the net social benefit that comes of it.
Here are 5 misconceptions about preschool teachers and what you can do to change the perception.
Myth #1: Preschool teachers are just babysitters
Fact: 90% of our brain development as humans happens predominantly from the ages 0-5. Due to this, every waking moment of a child’s existence during their first 5 years is a learning opportunity. Even something as simple as sitting upright is a huge learning milestone for an infant!
Early learning is traditionally divided into 5 main developmental domains: social, emotional, physical, communication and cognition. Further to these main areas of growth, there are different education philosophies and curricula that different centers follow: Montessori, emergent, Reggio and Waldorf (to name a few).
All these factors, on top of the basic requirement of keeping children safe and happy, are the things that childcare professionals have to take into account in their daily work. This is much more than simply “watching” children or babysitting in the conventional sense that it is understood by society.
What you can do: Early educators get into the field because they love (I mean, love) children and a big part of the job is also educating new parents. While focusing on children is important, broadening the scope of your work to include working with parents outside of the classroom can really bring awareness to what really goes into working with young children at a preschool level.
Myth #2: Working in childcare means playing with children all day
Fact: Children are growing and developing at a very quickly while they are at childcare. In reality, babies, infants, toddlers and preschoolers have very different needs. The younger the child, the smaller the child to teacher ratio as the care required is more concentrated. Ask any new parent if all they do is play with their kiddos all day and see what they say! Due to the fact that each age range is so different, teachers tend to specialize and focus on one group throughout their careers.
Now, this is not to say that play isn’t involved in working with children. Maria Montessori’s famous saying “play is a child’s work” holds a lot of weight as children engage the world through play. As each age group has different learning requirements, understanding the different stages of early childhood development is key for teachers to develop a curriculum that provides age-appropriate activities to support early development.
What you can do: Involve parents in the learning process! The home and school should complement each other as learning environments and facilitating continuity between the two spaces helps parents understand the value of age-appropriate play and how this contributes to their child’s learning.
Myth #3: Anyone can be a preschool teacher if they wanted to
Fact: As we enter a digital age where information is extremely accessible, the demand for quality childcare from parents is increasing across the board. Many states are responding to this by implementing Quality Rating Improvement Systems (QRIS) to help centers improve the quality of their care. This means that educators have to go through continuous professional development to stay in the field and young educators are entering the field with Bachelor or even Post-graduate degrees in Early Childhood Education.
To put things into perspective, preschool teachers not only have to attend trainings while on the job, they are also entering the field with 3-5 years of school under their belts! Also, a lot of educators then transition into a more operations-focused role and have to pick up other skills to run their centers. Not so easy after all, is it?
What you can do: Talk to the parents you work with about early education. The general public knows very little about how childcare works or even the qualifications required to become an educator. Building strong rapport with the families you work with is key to gaining more public recognition for the field.
Myth #4: Parents don’t need to be involved in preschool
Fact: Teacher-family partnerships are key to ensuring that each child is supported to the fullest of their potential. The logic to this is pretty straightforward: if parents and teachers communicate with each other clearly and are aware of how a child is in school and at home, it gives a more holistic picture of their development. This can only benefit the child as they will get more consistency in their learning both at school and at home!
Recent studies have found that parent engagement (regardless of socioeconomic background) has a huge impact on improving the quality of programming at a childcare center. This is because parents can continue and reinforce a child’s learning at home and encourage children to love the learning process!
What you can do: Create an environment that invites parents to participate in the learning. Volunteer nights or group activities that bring parents together can build a community around your classroom. The impact of community translates to a more enriched learning experience for the child. After all, it does take a village!
Myth #5: Preschool fees are so expensive, surely teachers are paid well
Fact: Yes, a common sentiment held by anyone looking for childcare is that quality can come at a hefty price tag equalling or exceeding the cost of college tuition. The average annual cost per child for childcare in the U.S. is $8,320 per year, but there is a huge misconception around the costs required to run a childcare program.
While the fees that parents pay do funnel into paying teachers, they also account for food, supplies (diapers, sheets), teaching materials, toys, insurance, furniture, curriculum, administrative supplies, licensing fees, cooking and cleaning supplies, facility maintenance and much more!
The reality is that after taking all the costs into consideration, preschool teachers are amongst one of the most undervalued professionals out there and rank even lower than janitors on average in a salary comparison across professions. Due to having earnings hovering around minimum wage, many teachers work really long hours, depend on their spouse’s income and even have to resort to working multiple jobs to make ends meet. On an even more serious note, the inability for preschool teachers to make a sustainable living from the profession is forcing a lot of great educators out of the field.
This is a pretty hard-hitting truth for a profession that directly contributes to a child’s future success and supports working parents as they reenter the job market and has to change.
What you can do: Advocate for the field and profession. Early education is a field that is fighting for the recognition it deserves. Because of this, every single voice that highlights the value of teachers matters! Each person that shares their story is one more voice that brings awareness to the reality of preschool teaching. As more voices rally around the cause, it could change the public perception of what early childhood education is all about and contribute to influencing policies surrounding the space for the better.
These are a few of the misconceptions of being a preschool teacher that we thought were important to talk about! What do you think and do you have your own to add?