Can We Bring Fair Pay and Respect to Preschool Teachers?

Fair pay and recognition that reflect the value of our preschool teachers will only come if we learn to respect those working in the profession. We must start by changing attitudes towards preschool teachers within our own communities.

In one New York City school, preschool teachers are being paid “poverty level wages“. When we consider the critical role of Early Childhood Educators — guiding the social and educational development of our children — it’s hard to understand why they are not valued financially.

The continued debate centering on the lack of pay for our educators, especially those working in early education, has many voices. Many education professionals recognize that lobbying the government or calling for widespread change isn’t solving the problem effectively or fast enough. We need to encourage community grassroots efforts on social media and the intelligent use of technology by teachers to demand higher pay for some of the most critical contributors to our society’s future.

The problem of teacher pay at the preschool level is a national crisis

Education empowers, inspires and gives young children the tools they need to be successful which is perhaps why it’s so ironic that our current system has left our early education professionals disempowered and struggling to make ends meet.

A recent report on Early Childhood Education: Advancing the Profession from the National Association for the Education of Young Children highlights that, on average across the USA, preschool teachers only earn $6 more than fast food employees.

New York state, for example, voted in September to gradually raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15, whereas an assistant teacher with a bachelor’s degree currently earns about $13.94 in the city. At HiMama, we also compared Child Care Worker salaries to other jobs in this article.

Disparities in pay are impossible to justify. Not only are we not offering a fair salary, but this mistreatment of our educators also has a direct effect on quality of care.

The Center for the Study of Childhood Care Employment at University of California, Berkeley concludes in a 2014 report that “stress and economic insecurity” negatively affect a teacher’s ability to provide effective development and supportive care, and goes on to say that, “education is lending scientific support to the claim that child well-being depends on adult well-being not only at home but in out-of-home settings.”

The reality is that if teacher pay truly reflected the profession’s value, we would not have a national teacher shortage. As stated in a NIEER paper, “Poor pay and scant benefits prevent preschool programs from hiring and keeping highly effective teachers.” It’s time to stop talking, to stop debating – it’s time to make a change.

Grassroots efforts by the community and educators themselves will help the cause

When it comes to pay in early education, we are problem focused, not solution focused. When solutions are proposed, they are mostly policy driven, and conversation in the polarized political system is rarely conducive to change.

What we need is low cost, low barrier-to-entry solutions that start to recognize educators today. This is an opportunity to use technology and social media to start celebrating the real heroes — the educators and emergent learning providers to our youngest children.

Firstly, educators need to start taking their professional images as seriously as those in other industries do. It is important for educators to take matters into their own hands and get better at marketing their own skill sets and specializations. Investing time in creating professional bios, like LinkedIn profiles, will help to establish credibility within the field and connect talented educators with high quality employers.

Twitter, too, can be a great resource for teachers looking to connect with other professionals, share experiences, online resources, and debate various topics. Hashtag conversations, such as #edchat take place weekly and are invaluable for educators of all levels of experience — and also double-up as excellent sources of professional development advice.

We should also encourage community-driven award programs, such as HiMama’s Early Childhood Educator of the Year Awards. By leveraging social media to garner votes for each of the nominees, we spread the message to help our educators get the recognition they deserve. H-E-B’s Excellence in Education Awardsalso go a long way in raising awareness about the tremendous efforts of our educators and improving their standing in our community.

Fair pay and recognition that reflect the value of our preschool teachers will only come if we learn to respect those working in the profession. If we can start changing attitudes towards those in the childcare and early learning profession within our own communities, a push towards better conditions will face less resistance.

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Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.

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