Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"I Love My Work but ..." the Professionalization of Early Childhood Education

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"I Love My Work but ..." the Professionalization of Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt


Education has always been important in determining one's job and income. Indirectly education level is also correlated with benefits--health care, holiday pay, and company sponsored pension plans. Education continues to be perceived as the key to social and economic mobility and to democratic citizenry. With education as the social and ideological linchpin of our society one would think that those responsible for education?teachers--would be held in high esteem both economically and socially. This has not been the experience of the majority of teachers--especially those educating our youngest children. The devaluing of educators and especially those working with young children has been extensively documented (Bourgeault & Khokher 2006; Culkin, 1999; Fuller & Strath 2001; Lifton 2001; MacDonald & Merrill 2002; Whitebook 1999). Within the early childhood education workforce the relationship between education, training and compensation is problematic.

In 1995, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the major professional organization for the early childhood education workforce, revised their position statement on quality, compensation and affordability in early childhood programs stating that compensation remained inadequate for most early childhood educators. They argued for salaries and benefits to be linked to qualifications and responsibilities. The debate on how to improve the quality of early childhood education programs and the salaries and benefits of the staff focused on the need to professionalize the staff; increase their knowledge, skills, and training; and require post-secondary education and certification. The emphasis was primarily on training and knowledge (Caulfield, 1997). Increased wages and benefits would be an outcome of achieving professional status.

In 1999 Child and Youth Care Forum furthered this discussion by publishing a series of articles in a symposium on the professionalization of the early childhood care and education workforce. Morgaine (1999) discussed the movement towards professionalization of early education and care workers in Oregon and argued there was a positive relationship between professional development and the status and salaries of the workforce. With further professional development and training Morgaine (1999) stated,

   The public image and status of childhood care and education
   practitioners will be altered, salaries will become more equitable,
   and we will be able to recruit and retain talented, strong, and
   committed people. (p. 15)

It was expected that professionalization would inevitably lead to an improved system of early education and care that met the needs of children, families and staff. Culkin (1999) stated,

   The sources of the low wages and the difficulties surrounding wages
   are embedded in a complex of economic issues that are related to
   the question of early care and education as legitimate work and as
   a real profession. (p. 56)

The need for improved child outcomes, quality programs and teacher qualifications has continued to frame the discussion around professional status. For example, Darling-Hammond (2009) argued that preschool teaching as a profession must settle what teachers need to learn and how they should learn it to achieve professional status. However, wages and benefits continue to be left out of the debate or sidelined into a separate campaign. The voices of workers are also missing. This research study seeks to address this need by listening to the voices of early educators and locating them at the center of the debate on professionalization. Without their feedback the move towards professional status may have minimal effect; or may even exacerbate the problem. As advocates and researchers we need to listen to and understand those most affected by our work. To contextualize the stories and experiences of early educators, a brief summary of the research connecting child outcomes, quality programs, teacher qualifications and compensation is provided below. …

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