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.