“How come you decided to tackle the issue of early childhood educator pay?”
That’s the question Marcy Whitebook was asked during a recent interview in the online publication Crosscut about her academic research.
Whitebook’s answer was a personal one. She had been both excited and troubled by her experience as an early educator:
“As a recent college graduate, I chose a career as a nursery school teacher. I was enthralled by witnessing and facilitating how young children learned. But it quickly became apparent that there was something amiss — many parents could not find or afford good services, only some teachers had access to education and training, only a handful of programs paid a decent wage and I witnessed one skilled fellow teacher after another leave to pursue a career that offered greater respect and reward.”
Whitebook decided to act. She explains:
“So a handful of my fellow teachers and I set out to expand and improve child care and specifically to secure the rights, raises, and respect for the early childhood workforce that would allow us to provide what children and families needed and deserved. We were young, fired up, and convinced that taking care of children means taking care of their teachers. Or, as has been our mantra since those early days, ‘the quality of care children receive is directly linked to the education and training, working conditions, and pay of their caregivers.’”
Today, Whitebook is the director and senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at University of California, Berkeley. And as we blogged last year, she is the lead author of a report on early educators’ salaries.
“Now years later, how does the early childhood education landscape look to you?” the interviewer, an old friend of Whitebook’s, asks.
“While the jobs remain low-paying, our expectations for early childhood teachers have soared enormously as we have learned more about brain development and early learning. The work of teaching young children is highly skilled and complex,” Whitebook says.
In addition: “Many skilled women employed to teach and care for our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers live with enormous economic stress, due in large measure to these low wages. As a consequence, many — especially those with young children — utilize public income supports, such as food stamps, despite working full-time.”
“The skills necessary for effective teaching require teachers to be observing and making assessments about what each child needs and could be learning at every moment of the day. They need analytic and organizational skills, as well as knowledge of child development and teaching strategies, all much harder to do when one is worried or stressed. Our most recent study, Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages explored the link between higher levels of teacher worry about their economic well-being and lower program quality.”
To learn more, read the full Crosscuts interview. And share Whitebook’s findings on social media as well as with your local and national policymakers.