Project Kick Off

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Julie Stegeman is a writer for the Asian Reporter, a mother, and a  member of the cooperative Hawthorne Family Playschool in Portland, Oregon. She attended the Project’s first educator forum and wrote the following article for publication in the newsletters of state and local cooperative preschool organizations.

Visible Teaching Project aims to spotlight efforts of Early Childhood Educators

Your children’s teachers would like you to know something: They are feeling undervalued. This is especially true for teachers in the field of early childhood education.

Carmen Ellis, who has been teaching in the early childhood field for almost 10 years, wants to change this dynamic. She recently started the Visible Teaching Project to address issues faced by early childhood educators, including under-compensation and the lack of status for these professionals, with the end goal of achieving “the necessary funding and public awareness to make early childhood education a viable lifelong profession.”

The kickoff meeting for the Visible Teaching Project took place in late October at the Trillium Preschool in North Portland. Several early childhood educators were in attendance at the meeting, which introduced the concept of the project and engendered discussion on how to bring about a greater awareness of teaching and the role of early childhood educators.

Carmen opened up the discussion with a statement, “teaching is neither understood nor respected,” a sentiment that was echoed around the room. “I feel like our job is a real craft, it’s really skilled, but maybe we don’t do a good job of talking about that, or maybe we’re not talking about that at all,” she said. Her answer is to increase the visibility of early childhood educators.

When asked what visibility meant to the teachers who attended the meeting, they responded: better compensation, healthcare, and retirement benefits. But not only that, the teachers are frustrated by their low status and they would like that to change. These educated and experienced professionals are often viewed as babysitters or daycare workers. And it seems that the younger the students you teach, the less respect you are given. The combination of low pay and little respect causes many to change fields, resulting in fewer experienced teachers and a compromised quality of care.

The group brainstormed ways to make their work more visible to parents and the community. Some ideas included blogs, classroom meetings, journeybooks, and art shows for the public to attend. In general, it was agreed that greater interaction with parents and the community leads to greater appreciation of a teacher’s skills.

According to “The First Eight Years,” a 2013 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Children who attend high-quality preschools have higher test scores, fewer behavior problems and lower rates of grade repetition.” It further adds, “They also have higher rates of high school graduation, improved employment opportunities and earnings, and lower rates of drug abuse and depression.” Keeping this in mind, can we afford to lose great teachers when they burn out, or are forced to leave the profession to earn a more livable wage?

A follow-up interview with Susan Eisman, director and teacher at the Hawthorne Family Playschool, led to some concrete examples of what parents can do to help their children’s teachers to feel appreciated. One way parents can promote teachers’ work is by supporting paid teacher in-services and planning time. Programs which provide these benefits allow dedicated teachers to be compensated for some of the time they spend outside of directly caring for children — reviewing daily interactions, communicating with parents, and planning future curriculum options. Parents who willingly find alternative care during in-service days are acknowledging the importance of teachers’ work and the broad scope it encompasses.

Additionally, parents can share their resources, which can mean anything from allowing a teacher to stay in a vacation house or giving a teacher restaurant gift certificates, to donating a magazine subscription or even bringing in those extra veggies that are overrunning the garden.

Other ways to help include lobbying for businesses to offer discounts for teachers, asking businesses who offer discounts for K-12 teachers to extend their discounts to preschool teachers as well, and bringing patronage to businesses that do give discounts.

So let’s step up as parents and community members to support and advocate for our children’s teachers, who make such efforts on behalf of our kids.

For more information on the Visible Teaching Project, visit https://visibleteachingproject.wordpress.com

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