Choosing to become a preschool teacher is one of the most rewarding, yet challenging career decisions. Despite the growing demand for quality child care in this country, early childhood education (ECE) continues to be one of the lowest paying employment fields. So low, in fact, that it’s not uncommon for preschool staff to have second jobs to support their families, all while striving to meet ongoing professional demands. So while it can be difficult for parents, children and the school when preschool teachers move on to other job opportunities, it’s often expected.
In fact according to the 2017 Colorado Early Childhood Workforce Survey, turnover rates among job roles range from 16 to 40 percent.
I’ve seen this first-hand. As the director of Christ Lutheran Early Childhood Center in Denver for the past 11 years, I’ve heard many preschool teachers share their frustrations about being seen as a “babysitter” despite the fact that it takes a lot of effort to become and remain the professionals they are. Many states require preschool teachers to reach several levels of education but are unable to provide any financial assistance or guarantee that doing so will lead to greater compensation. To qualify as a lead preschool teacher here in Colorado, there are multiple avenues people can take, all of which require a significant amount of time and resources. For example you can have a bachelor’s degree in one of five specified ECE-related fields, a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field with at least two ECE college courses and at least six months of experience with four or more children under the age of 6, or a Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential™.
This is why I’m grateful to live in a community that is choosing to prioritize its preschool students and the teachers who support their early learning. Denver is one of the few major U.S. cities that invests in preschool tuition for children in their year before kindergarten and in the quality improvement of preschool classrooms through the Denver Preschool Program (DPP). DPP is a sales tax-funded nonprofit charged with making preschool possible for every Denver 4-year-old.
Christ Lutheran Early Childhood Center is one of approximately 250 public and community-based preschool programs that receive funding from DPP, to support ongoing quality improvement. This funding includes resources such as college scholarships, opportunities for teachers to earn their CDA, professional development trainings and one-on-one in-classroom coaching. Not only do these supports lower out-of-pocket costs for teachers while increasing their earning potential, but they also benefit the children who will receive high quality early learning experiences.
And after 10 years of serving Denver’s 4-year-old classrooms, DPP is extending its quality improvement resources to 3-year-old classrooms beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. This means even more teachers will receive the training and tools they need to make a positive, long-term impact on the students in their classrooms.
I hope that other communities are inspired by what Denver is doing to strengthen the early childhood education field. High quality preschool matters and we must invest in those who make it possible.
Renee Williams is an early childhood educator with more than 20 years of experience in the field. Currently she is the director of Christ Lutheran Early Childhood Center in Denver, where she has also taught the 3-year-old classroom for more than 11 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in both early childhood and elementary education from the University of North Dakota.
Photo Credit: Denver Preschool Program