Preschool Teachers: the unsung heroes of the education field
Some of the most infuriating things for me to hear is when people refer to teaching as their “fall back” plan, or when people ask preschool teachers in an off-hand manner, “When are you going to get a real job?” Yes, there are plenty of teachers who use the preschool setting as a stepping stone. Or an easy place to get a job straight out of high school or college. Yes, I understand that the benefits of working for a school district far outweigh what you can get out of a privately owned school. But, have you ever considered what being a preschool teacher is like?
The education field is changing. Because parents want their children in academic settings from a younger and younger age and are demanding that their children learn how to read and write from a younger and younger age, the demands of a preschool teacher’s job description has risen. And, since parents are paying exorbitant monthly tuition rates to send their children to preschools, they’re expecting more and more out of preschool programs. So why are they paid about the same amount as a fast food worker, you may ask? Trust me, I would love to change all of that.
Preschool teachers are among the most underpaid, under-appreciated, and overworked people in the education field. Good lead teachers spend hours lesson planning and looking up fun, developmentally appropriate, and challenging activities for their classes. They spend their own money buying materials for projects for their classes. AND, they work year-round. Unless they work for an exceptionally fortunate preschool that mirrors a typical school district schedule, that means 1-2 days off for Thanksgiving, 2-3 days off for Christmas, no spring break, and no summer break. That’s right, the huge perks that everyone thinks of when they think of teaching careers-- are not viable options for a preschool teacher.
Let’s take a look at a preschool teacher’s job. The typical preschool is open 12 hours a day, with teachers’ schedules staggered to cover these open hours of operation. For the busy parents who work long days, preschool teachers actually spend more of their child’s waking hours with them. Preschool teachers are these children’s caretakers, teachers, and second moms. They know every child in their care as if they were their own- they know their habits, mannerisms, and preferences such as well as their parents do. They make sure the children in their care eat, take a nap, and are happy and safe. They dutifully fill out daily reports and take pictures so parents can see what their babies are up to all day. They’re teaching children the fundamentals they will need to know to be successful in school and in life. The best preschool teachers do it because they absolutely love what they do, and the children in their classes are some of the most fortunate to have such dedicated, passionate, and loving teachers who take care of their well-being and education every single day. I still have the teacher appreciation notes that I received back when I was a teacher. It really does remind me of how fulfilling it is to work with children every day, even from an administrative viewpoint now.
I don’t write this to discourage people from being preschool teachers, however. I actually write this to show my sincere appreciation for those who work so hard, year-round, and are regarded largely as glorified babysitters. Because if you were to ask any of my teachers what their age group’s developmental goals are, any one of them could rattle off physical, emotional, social, gross/fine motor, and problem solving goals along with activities that are done daily to promote these goals. My teachers work hard to further their education by pursuing their CDA if they don’t have a degree, and come to me with inquiries about professional development and training they can do to further their knowledge.
As with any job in the education field, preschool teachers don’t do it for the money. Clearly. Being a preschool teacher is so rewarding, because they get to watch babies take their first steps. They get to facilitate the growth and development of children who are being exposed to a social setting for the first time. They watch children painstakingly write their names for the first time. They teach children the fundamentals of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies that they will use for the rest of their academic careers. As a teacher, and as an administrator, seeing that growth and knowing that I was such an instrumental part of that progress, is what makes my job worth the meager paycheck.