We’re not going to lie. It’s a tough time in early childhood education.
You’re closing classrooms, putting children on waitlists, and struggling to not only find quality teachers, but to retain them as well.
Policies need to change, early childhood education needs to receive more government support, and millions of children need a safe place to feel loved while parents are working.
Early childhood teachers, who are showing up every day even amongst a pandemic, are more indispensable than ever.
We reached out to our network of ECE pros to find out exactly what makes early childhood teachers so vital to our communities, how ECE leaders can show teachers their support, and how parents can offer teachers their appreciation.
Let’s hear them out.
#1 — Teachers shape children’s minds for the future
#2 — Preschool teachers provide a safe and nurturing environment
#3 — Early childhood teachers are necessary for a thriving economy
How ECE leaders can show teachers they care
How parents can show teachers their support
“Experiences in the early childhood years determine the architecture and connections in the child's brain… All of us are who we are, in large part, because of the experiences we had when we were very young.” — Cindy Terebush, Author, podcast host and professional development provider
As a natural communicator, Cindy Terebush isn’t afraid of getting straight to the point when it comes to her passion for early childhood education.
For Cindy, early childhood education means more to the child than just learning numbers, colors, and shapes — it forms the entire human.
“High-quality early childhood programs teach children they are capable human beings who can be kind, compassionate, innovative, and successful,” explains Cindy. “They teach young children about their self-worth. Those lessons stay with us into adulthood.”
Maryann “Mar.” Harman, early childhood music educator and owner of Music with Mar., is another ECE pro who understands the impact great early childhood teachers can have on the brain.
”Anyone who interacts with a child in the early years is vitally important...It is during the first 3 years, and then from 3 to 6, that attachment is made with children,” says Mar. “They must feel loved and that all their needs are being met. When a child has an enriching, nurturing, loving environment, there is stronger frontal lobe development which allows the brain to move into the next phase and be more successful there.”
When it comes to wrapping up the affects early childhood teachers have on brain development, we think David Adams’, CEO of The Urban Assembly, short-but-sweet message says it best:
“Early childhood educators are the bedrock of our educational system. Their inputs to child development help shape the trajectory of children's Social Emotional and Academic outcomes for years to come. These educators are deserving of our honor, our respect, and our support.”
Honestly, we couldn’t agree more.
“Many times children spend more time with their preschool teacher than they do at home. Preschool teachers should be highly thought of and appreciated.” — Megan Bowling, Stretch-n-Grow
Megan makes a good point about the amount of time early childhood teachers spend with children. During this time, teachers provide a safe and nurturing environment for children who experience an array of emotions often.
“It’s hard to even grasp the amount of work that goes into a preschool classroom, unless you’ve experienced it firsthand,” asserts Megan. “Our ECE teachers set children up for their lives…They hold your children when they’re hurt, scared or sad.”
Providing a safe and nurturing environment for children is especially important for those coming from less stable households where food insecurity, poverty, and high-stress can impact children.
Dr. Alice Sterling Honig, Professor Emerita of Child Development at the Department of Human Development and Family Science, Falk College, Syracuse University, has over 45 years in the field.
Alice believes early childhood teachers can provide a safe space for children living in varying situations.
“For little ones who live in chaotic situations, their teachers’ cuddles and loving ways may provide an essential emotional support,” she says.
Cindy also supports the fact that early childhood teachers provide a safe and nurturing environment for children whose parents may be feeling and expressing their stress at home.
“When families are stressed, it impacts their children,” says Cindy. “Though some family stress may be unavoidable, teachers can provide the children with an environment that helps to mitigate the stress they are experiencing elsewhere.”
As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, one cause of stress for families is financial stress. Which moves us on to our third reason early childhood teachers are more indispensable than ever.
“We have learned during the pandemic that our society simply doesn't function well without early childhood teachers” — Cindy Terebush, Author, podcast host and professional development provider
For many ECE pros, one important aspect of early childhood education is the impact it has on our economy — especially for working parents who need to know their children are in good hands.
Cindy points out the impact a lack of early childhood programs can have on the economy.
“In today's economy, families need a safe and nurturing place for their children so they can work,” says Cindy. “Early childhood education plays a vital role in the health of our economy. Without people willing and able to work in early childhood settings, families will struggle and businesses will continue to be short-staffed.”
Dr. Erica Vernold Miller, Founder and CEO at Professor Patty Cake Consulting, has been coaching educators for over a decade and knows the impact lack of early childcare services has on working families.
“Early Childhood programs provide a vital service to working parents,” asserts Erica. “Without the availability of early childhood programs, working parents are forced to make other arrangements to ensure care of their children while they are at work.”
And throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen firsthand the results of early childhood programs shutting down or decreasing enrollment due to teacher shortages. Women were impacted the most due to needing to stay home with their children.
“In many cases, alternative care is not possible, so parents have no other choice but to quit their jobs to stay home with their children,” says Erica. “This not only limits the financial opportunities for families, but also has a negative impact on the overall economic recovery of the United States.”
According to Erica, the only way early childhood programs stay open and maintain appropriate ratios for care is due to early childhood teachers.
“You can’t run programs without teachers,” says Erica. “Thus, it is crucial that we not only attract early childhood teachers to the profession but also help retain them in the profession once they are there.”
She can say that again!
One of the ways ECE leaders can retain early childhood teachers while building a resilient organizational culture is to show them how much they are appreciated.
Much like parenthood, teaching can feel like a ‘thankless job.’ At times, actions can speak louder than words. Here’s what our ECE pros have to say about actions leaders can take to show their appreciation.
“Improving working conditions and showing appreciation for the work that early childhood teachers do is vital to maintaining the early childhood program workforce.” — Dr. Erica Vernold Miller, CEO at Professor Patty Cake Consulting
Erica has extensively researched and published articles on the topic of teacher resiliency and burnout. She discovered working conditions to be just as (if not more) important as pay in determining whether or not a teacher stays in the profession.
One of the working conditions being boundaries.
“I suggest that parents and directors respect ECE teachers’ boundaries/schedules and don’t try to bombard them with correspondence after hours,” says Erica. “Teachers need time to decompress from their workdays too. Research shows that downtime is crucial to preventing burnout and helping teachers be more productive when they are at work.”
Teachers need to know ECE leaders care about their overall wellbeing, especially during these unprecedented situations, according to Cindy. She points out the importance of providing psychologically safe environments for teachers.
“In a psychologically safe environment, teachers contribute to decision-making, and they know it is okay to make mistakes,” explains Cindy. “Perfection is not the goal in a psychologically safe environment. The goal is to learn and grow together in an environment filled with support.”
In order for ECE leaders and teachers to grow together, ECE leaders can make sure teachers have a say in the day-to-day operations of the early childhood education program.
For Erica, this means ECE leaders need to:
For ECE pros like Cindy, the impact the pandemic had on children’s socialization needs to be taken into consideration for teachers and ECE leaders.
“Teachers need a voice in the shifts and adaptations that need to take place now as children who have been exposed to less socialization and play enter their settings,” points out Cindy. “The children have spent at least half of their lives in a pandemic situation, so social-emotional skill building needs to be prioritized. Leaders need to work with teachers to develop realistic and appropriate expectations for everyone, children and adults alike.”
Although ECE leaders’ appreciation and support can move mountains for early childhood teachers, parents play an ideal role in teachers’ lives as well.
Today more than ever, early childhood teachers need to feel appreciated by parents.
“A simple word of encouragement helps teachers to feel seen and respected.” — Cindy Terebush, Author, podcast host and professional development provider
Simple ways our ECE pros said parents can show their acknowledgement:
We guarantee, early childhood teachers never forget the parents who took the time to share kind words. Just listen to Cindy:
“It's been a number of years since I was a classroom teacher, but I still have some of the notes parents wrote to me to thank me for what I did with their children, '' says Cindy.
Elissha Mattheis, Talent Development Manager at Wonderspring, was a previous director at one of the Wonderspring’s child care centers and worked closely with teachers, children, and families. She also knows how much parent appreciation means for educators:
“Educators are so thankful to hear gratitude from a parent/caregiver for the love, education, support, and daily care that is poured into their student,” says Ellissha. “As educators, we know that all of the everyday moments, interactions, and teaching opportunities have a lifelong impact on the children that we serve.”
Erica also points out that no matter how stressed parents become, taking out stress on early childhood teachers is never acceptable.
“Common courtesy goes a long way,” says Erica. “Making eye contact, extending greetings, and treating EC teachers with respect goes a long way in showing them that you see and appreciate the work that they do.”
From a day-to-day perspective, this is how parents can help early education teachers feel appreciated, but on a larger scale families can also get involved in advocating for change at the policy level.
“Families have more influence than they know over public policy, and it’s time to get involved to ensure the funding exists for your children to have the highest quality early childhood experience possible.” — Cindy Terebush, Author, podcast host and professional development provider
Little moments can add up to big change.
Parents can use social media to post, comment, and share about public policy that affects early childhood teachers. Parents can also reach out to representatives who influence public policy change with letters, emails, and phone calls.
At the end of the day, early childhood teachers are one of the professions who are truly making a difference.
Teachers are literally helping children form into future functioning adults who will make great impacts in the world.
As David puts it,
“Parents and ECE leaders can show they care (about teachers) by advocating for quality training and policies that recognize and remunerate ECE professionals for their contributions to our society.”
No matter how you look at it, early childhood teachers are the heroes in our young children’s lives. The best ones care for our children like they are their own. That truth should not be taken lightly nor taken for granted. Now please go show your early childhood teachers how much you appreciate and care about them — and make sure they know we can’t live without them!