I shared a quote with some early childhood educators last week, and was somewhat surprised with how deeply it seemed to resonate with them.
“Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.” (Source Unknown)
It resonated with me as an early childhood professional as well, that’s why I shared it. But why is that the case?
I’ll give you just a few examples from my own experience. (I’m sure you could share many as well.)
In college, I once explained to a date what my responsibilities were as the head teacher at the university’s lab school. After my long (and probably rambling — I deserve some of the blame here too) list of responsibilities, he responded with, “So, your job is to refill the paints?”
There was no second date.
I often think of a story my mom would tell about a good friend of hers. This woman was a talented first grade teacher, and I admired her as a student in the same school. My mom recounted that another adult — a student’s parent perhaps?– once responded incredulously at the notion that she had, in fact, graduated from college. As though a teacher was only required to master the same education level as his or her students.
She was shocked. My mom was shocked. I grew up, went into education, heard the story, and was shocked. But it seems that line of thinking may not be so uncommon.
I stumbled on this gem recently as I was researching the influence of high-quality preschool settings. After citing a study that showed a low correlation between degrees held by preschool teachers and child outcomes, the authors note:
“The lack of correlation makes sense when one considers that the children in these preschool programs are only three or four years old. Teaching basic vocabulary or numeracy skills to this age group does not require years of formal study or a complex curriculum….”
They’re only three and four-year-olds. You don’t need a degree or training to be smarter than they are, right?
Now, let me be clear. I’m not contesting the fact that there are many AMAZING teachers who have few or no fancy papers from colleges of education. And I would gladly get in line with the authors of the study (though the authors of the aforementioned article fail to note this point) in saying that meaningful professional development for teachers is broader than some stagnant lines on a transcript, and that teacher-child interactions matter more than college exams. That study didn’t prove that teacher quality doesn’t matter, it showed that teacher quality can’t be so superficially quantified by certificates and papers. Quality is in the practice, not the pedigree.
But to segue those facts into a demeaning sentence about how easy it must be to teach such basic information to kids who are only three or four years old? As though the task of teaching young children is measured by the complexity of the basic information in the curriculum, rather than by artistry and skill it takes to help children create meaning from those abstract facts? (Nevermind the tasks they failed to acknowledge, like helping kids to maintain and channel their curiosity, build self-control and social skills, and basically get through the day without –or in spite of– them melting down into a puddle of tears. Or urine. Or sometimes both.)
But then I remember: “Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”
There are people and processes and policies that make it feel like professionals in the early childhood education field aren’t valued. And that’s a shame. But it doesn’t change how valuable they actually are.
I tell the teachers I speak to that as a professional, I know the work they put into what they do, and as a parent I get to see the fruit of that work. And I mean it. They are SO valuable. Every. Single. One.
There are a lot of different studies out there about the value of a good early childhood educator (some even say a good kindergarten teacher is worth $320,000 per year when looking at the financial impact over the lifespan of his/her students), their positive social impact, and the critical nature of the foundation for learning that they support.
There is plenty of academic evidence that the work of a good teacher is not just cute, and not just marginally skilled, but very influential and extremely critical.
And I love geeking out on the research. But I don’t actually need it when I tell teachers they matter.
Because I see it right in front of my own eyes.
I see my own boys with eyes that light up as they tell me about an exciting new idea, and my heart sings when they tell me their teacher told them about it. Sometimes the teacher told them today. Sometimes it was a few weeks ago. But sometimes they recount to me with the same spark, something a teacher told them years ago. Those teachers matter.
I see my boys who are curious because a teacher let them wonder and told them that their ideas matter.
I see the magic start to click, as one son dives voraciously into chapter books every night and as his younger brother suddenly tries to read every scrap of print that comes his way. Because they have teachers who show them that words and stories matter.
I see teachers who snuggle kids who don’t smell good or look particularly clean, because they know that each child matters.
I see the busy buzz of kids in classrooms as kids put on costumes and build with blocks and dig in boxes of beans because of teachers who believe play matters.
I see the amazing preschool teacher who hugged my boy and sincerely said “I love you!” every day when she helped him into the car after school. I saw his face and knew he believed her. And that it mattered. And it matters still.
And so this is my love letter to you. MY people. In this week of love, please know that you are so loved, so valuable, and so needed.
Thank you for what you do every day — for me, for my boys, for children, and for childhood.
This same quote touches my heart, as did this post. When I first became a preschool teacher I was embarrassed to tell others when out with my husband what I did because of my fear that they thought what I did was not important enough or worthy of my bachelor degree work. I also did not feel very secure about it around my husband at the time because I wasn’t getting paid much and he knew nothing about kids at the time. Fast forward to a different job/role in early childhood, and two children, and my husband now understands the importance of quality care and learning at this stage. I am 100 times more confident in myself and what I do, and I want to get back in the classroom as a teacher. Sometimes getting back to the basics, back to the kids, to help other teachers is what it takes.
Diana Burress says
i love your post. I too am a preschool teacher with a bachelors degree, my major is Early Childhood Education. I feel that people look down upon me because of what I do. However, I honestly love my job and all the children I work with and their families are important to me.
Laura rech says
It always amazes me when I come across someone who is honestly surprised that I get paid the same as a high school teacher with similar experience. I guess starting the school process with four year olds is not comparable with teaching a high school class. I can only shake my head….
Czarina Deles says
Your love letter inspires a lot of teachers like me.Yes we are not paid as much as others professions are but the fulfillment that are brought by our students is more than enough that money can’t buy.
Danny Burr says
This brought tears to my eyes. Rarely dies a day go by that i dont vent to my partner or a friend about how people dont realise how much we do. For years, i told people “I’m a teacher”, with pride, and when they asked “What grade?, id answer “early childhood”, or “the little guysv, trying to avoid saying “preschool teacher”.
Our society tends to measure impottance and success in dollars and cents. Words like these reinforce what i now know today; that i havevTHE greatest job on earth.
I am a preschool teacher.
I work with infants and toddlers so you can imagine some of the comments I have gotten. “You need a degree to change a diaper?” “Oh so you are a glorified babysitter?”The first 6 years are so important and the first year especially! Attachment is huge for future development. In the area I work, kindergarten readiness skills are very low especially on speech and language skills. Many parents here have to deal with toxic stress. If there is support early on for the parents and children, by the time the children get to school they will be more ready to learn. There is a notion out there that Kindergarten is where you start learning skills (i.e. literacy). This is so far from the truth.
your love letter reminds me of this “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.” as foundations of value, knowledge and wisdom are laid during the early years…a preschool teacher contributes to a child’s development and creates an impact that the child will use sooner or later (if not at the present yet) and he/she will carry this throughout his/her life.
so a preschool teacher’s influence stretches for a long time. 🙂
preschool teachers rock!!!
I am not a teacher. I am a Mum with three children. One in grade 3. One in grade 1 and one still at home with me. I confess, I did not appreciate all that teachers did until my own children were at school. Sure I can look back on my own experiences and I value teachers, but it is deeper now that I have my own children. This was not demeaning what you all do… just I had no appreciation of what your job really entails (as you would not have with my job – which is working in international aid)… but this blog post resonated with me and so I forwarded this love letter to my teachers children. and simply said “thankyou for all you do. Especially for all those little things. We are so grateful that you teach our children” they were both so so humbled and grateful to receive this…. it struck me how passionate they are and they forge through the silly comments/misunderstandings and be there and shine for our children every day. One teacher I know forwarded this weblink to her early childhood teacher colleagues in the entire school. your words and thoughts are important Amanda and had a beautiful little ripple effect through our school. thankyou for the work you do.
Jason callaghan says
i see the benefits every day for two beautiful daughters get from my loving wife who is an incredible mother who I am blessed to have teaching my children every day.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the quote. I am very proud of being a preschool teacher and always have been. I have worked with children for over 27 years. I do not hesitate to tell people that I teach preschool and currently it is a class of two year olds. Even my daughters proudly told their teachers in elementary, middle and high school what I did. We have to earn a degree and work as hard and sometimes harder than the teachers in school districts but we should never be looked down upon. I have watched my children grow up, graduate, go onto college and choose their careers. Many have become teachers and early childhood teachers. I have also had the privilege to receive many thank yous over the years from the children and families. I love my career choice and I know the children receive part of my heart every year. Thank you again.
All of your children are so lucky to have you, Debbi!
Joan L says
I am a preschool teacher. I take home $20,000 a year from my district job. Of course I do what I do because it’s a calling. Of course, I know I make a difference in the lives of the children and families I serve, but for God sakes, how can I possibly feel good about my chosen field taking home LESS income than the families who qualify for the free state preschool program I work for (east bay, CA)? It’s hard not to be bitter and disillusioned. How long can I go without the ability to pay for my dental work, proper insurance, and retirement savings? Car repossession, credit gone to heck. There comes a point when you just give up.