This is one of a series of blogs featuring first-person accounts from early educators across Massachusetts.
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My name is Jennie Antunes, and I have worked in the early education field for 30 years. This past October marked my 29th year with NorthStar Learning Centers in New Bedford, Mass. I am presently a lead teacher in one of our toddler/preschool classrooms. I also have the responsibility of acting as designated administrator when the center director is out of the building.
Through the help of a scholarship program, I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2014. Even though I had been doing this work for so long, there was so much more I wanted to learn to strengthen my teaching. I take great pride in my accomplishments, proving to myself that I could work full time as well as attend school full time.
However, early educators’ pay continues to be a challenge. The goal to have teachers become better educated to better serve children and their families is fantastic and important. Guiding the development and learning of young minds is incredibly difficult and highly skilled work.
One question arises, however: Why would individuals with bachelor’s degrees and years of experience remain in a field where they are not adequately compensated for the valuable work they do?
The only reason I have been able to remain in the early education field is because my husband was a correctional officer. His pay was almost double what I brought home. I make $14.35 an hour. My 25-year-old son became a correctional officer three years ago. His work is as important as what I do in our community, yet, without a college degree, he earns almost twice as much as me. And here I am providing a service proven to reduce criminal involvement and incarceration.
When our sons were young, my husband and I both worked more than one job because of the low pay I earned as an early educator. I’m one of the lucky ones, however, and this is sad. Some of my coworkers who are single or single parents qualify for Section 8 housing and other public assistance. I am fortunate to have health insurance through my husband; some of my coworkers are paying 35 percent of their health insurance from an already minimal salary. I see many teachers leave this work, and this turnover is not good for children.
If we truly want what is best for young children and their families, early educators need to be compensated at a level that’s commensurate with the important work we do. It is sad and unfortunate that in Massachusetts, and across the country, we continue to lose experienced and educated teachers due to low wages.