(WOMENSENEWS)– In a female dominated profession, where 95.5 percent of all child care workers are women, we often assume anyone patient enough can work with children.
We assume that working with babies, toddlers or preschoolers requires little to no special skills or knowledge. The "babysitters" of the world, while needed, are not respected as professionals. In addition, because they are women, doing "women’s work," their pay is reflective of such stereotypes.
Too often those who care for our youngest children, 0 to 5, in centers across the country are viewed as workers rather than teachers.
Currently, governors such as Minnesota’s Mark Dayton and Montana’s Steve Bullock are advocating for universal access to prekindergarten and New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio is working towards implementing full-day free preschool for all.
Even in light of advocacy for access to "affordable, high-quality child care," as President Barack Obama expressed in his 2015 State of the Union address, we still witness a lack of consistency in whom we see working with our future generations and the quality of experiences children receive.
One of the primary reasons to create universal access to prekindergarten or preschool is to provide equal access to early learning experiences, regardless of race, ethnicity or economic income level.
To change this, we must see all child care workers as teachers and treat them as the professionals that they truly are.
Look at Elite Nursery Schools
The elite spend up to $40,000 a year on private early childhood education. These elite preschools, found in big cities like New York City, are staffed by highly educated teachers with master’s degrees and have additional on-staff child psychologists, music specialists and artists in residence, not workers. Whereas lower-income child care centers have caregivers who in addition to caring for the children are also required to be the janitors of their centers.
Viewing child care providers as workers, rather than teachers, strains any professional possibilities for the field. Some child care providers leave to pursue teaching positions in elementary schools to achieve a higher level of respect, professionalism and salary.
Successful early childhood teachers need college education, experience and opportunities for continued professional development, according to researchers at The University of California, Berkeley.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children highlights that qualified teachers are able to provide children with "culturally relevant curriculum, build competence in language, literacy, mathematics and other academic disciplines." In addition, teachers also provide positive relationships that support "social, emotional and academic competence" needed later in life.
Research also shows that the 0-to-5 years are critical for brain development. Children are building neurological connections at a rate of 700 to 1,000 every second.
Nurturing Relationships Key
"Nurturing relationships" are key in building these connections, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Research presented by Harvard University also states: "What happens early in life sets the foundation for everything that follows." Whether positive or negative, early experiences shape who children will become.
It is imperative then that we see those working in child care centers as teachers. Our children’s future is held in their abilities to not only care for but to teach our children and help their brains develop.
Teachers of all children, regardless of age, can feel undervalued and underappreciated. But child care workers, well, they aren’t even called teachers. President Obama said, "I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: your life matters."
In order to do that, our actions have to tell all teachers, in all neighborhoods, their lives matter. Whether a woman or man, those working in our child care centers deserve to be viewed as the teachers they truly are.
It is no longer just "women’s" work, but work that needs to be appreciated and valued for the impact it makes on our future.
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