Early Education as a Profession

by Starr Morgan, Executive Director, Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center

(August 24, 2021) Preschool children at the Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center were interested in bugs; not just different types of bugs but also bug habitats. As their interest continued to grow, they decided to make a bug hotel where many types of bugs can live. After doing some research they quickly began designing their own ideas of a bug hotel, excitedly talking about the features, what types of bugs will live there, and how big it should be. The teacher asked, “Which one shall we build?” Upon much discussion guided by questions the teachers posed they decided they would vote and brainstormed together the parameters of the voting. They decided that “...children in the whole school can vote, no teachers, except Ms. Janessa because she knows everything, and parents can vote, especially Dominic’s dad because he’s funny.” They created ways for everyone to vote, counted, and then graphed the results. A winner was announced, and they got to work ‘shopping’ from the recycled materials in the school and calculated additional materials that needed to be purchased. Measuring, hammering, sawing, drilling, and stapling ensued with the help of the teachers.

Through this process, the four-year-olds learned about governmental systems, research, design, voting, negotiating, counting, graphing, investigating, building, recycling, letters, and sounds. They expanded their social, literacy, math, physical, gross, and fine motor development. All this learning took place through the careful and intentional planning of preschool teachers. To enhance the study, teachers also provided opportunities for continued exploration of bugs and bug habitats; building and using real tools, artistic expression, numbers and letters, and navigating social situations and strong feelings.

The work of the early education teacher is highly important and requires a well-educated, creative, caring individual in order to provide high-quality experiences that impact brain development. All this careful work in an industry that doesn’t value the teachers as professionals, with very little pay, and few benefits.

Early childhood education and child care is a crucial part of our economy; not only to provide a much-needed service so families can work; but also, to provide meaningful educational experiences for young children at a time when 90 percent of brain development takes place. During the infant and toddler years (birth to age three) 80 percent of a person’s brain has developed and 90 percent by age five, the age when most children enter kindergarten. By the time a child reaches the age when our educational system identifies them as ready to start learning (kindergarten), most connections in the brain have already been made. So, why are early education teachers not valued the same as elementary and secondary school teachers?

The average salary range for elementary teachers in Michigan is $50,000-$71,000, preschool teachers $22,000-$27,000, and child care teachers $18,500- $23,000. These salaries are evidence that early childhood education and child care is not valued as important educational experiences and is simply a service for families to work.

Michigan’s early childhood education and child care is in a crisis. The pandemic has decreased the availability of quality early education teachers and care providers resulting in an even further reduction of available slots for children. As Michigan attempts to return to normal we know that in early education and child care normal was never enough.

Children are learning during this time of incredible brain growth. What they’re learning depends on the quality of care and learning opportunities they experience resulting in the strengthening of either positive or negative pathways in the brain. In order to have quality teachers available, it is imperative that early education teachers are valued as professionals, viewed as teachers, and compensated fairly. Returning to normal isn’t enough, teachers and children in Michigan deserve better.

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