Child Care Professionals
I am a preschool teacher. I am underpaid, underappreciated, and rarely given the respect that other teachers receive. Perhaps this is true because of the lack of knowledge about what preschool teachers do and also because of the confusion between babysitters, child-care, and daycare providers. Make no mistake, preschool teachers are teachers and not babysitters. We are the teachers who develop the minds and spirits of children at the most influential phase of their lives. While I am in no way discrediting the work of a babysitter, I am simply setting the record straight in that these are different. It often seems that preschool teachers are not credited as being “real” teachers. I believe that this misconception, like many others, comes from a lack of information. Because preschool is not a mandatory part of a child’s education in many states, it is sometimes perceived that preschool is not as important as the rest of a child’s formal education. But preschool is a highly important step in a child’s education, one that should be seriously considered by governments and parents alike. Preschool teachers are the most important teachers in a child’s life. We are “real” teachers who provide the basis of knowledge in a child’s life.
The roots of preschool can be traced back to the 19th century, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Froebel, and Maria Montessori first explored theories on teaching and the developmental needs of very young children (Tietze 69). Rousseau placed emphasis on children learning by experience and the idea that each child learns at their own pace. Froebel was the originator of Kindergarten and Maria Montessori developed the educational theory called The Montessori Method. The first kindergarten was opened in Watertown, Wisconsin in 1856 by Margarethe Schurz (“History of Preschool”). Preschools did not appear in the United States “until the early 1920s, when several universities, colleges, and research centers established them as experimental schools for training young children” (“History of Preschool”). In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, preschools were financed by the federal government to provide work for teachers (“History of Preschool”). The need for preschool was accelerated for several reasons, the first of which is the “recognition by psychologists, educators, and research centers of the fundamental importance of the preschool period of childhood” (Richey 338). The second reason that preschools became such a valuable station in the community, was because of the changes in family dynamics. There was an increase in single-parent homes and also an increase in families where both parents worked. Because of the growing needs of families, two types of programs for children were developed:
(a) care-oriented, mostly full-time programs to satisfy the basic physical and socialization needs of working-class children in difficult family situations, and (b) part-time education-oriented programs with the aim of enriching and complementing the experiences of children by planned learning activities for the middle classes in which education was regarded as an essential step toward securing their own social status (Tietze 69).
Today many preschools not only offer part-time education programs but also offer full-time education programs so that single parents and families where both parents work can benefit from an educational program. Parents now use preschools or child-care centers for strictly educational or care purposes or a combination of the two.
We know that preschool teachers educate, but does this prove that they are really teachers? In order to prove that preschool teachers are in fact teachers, we first look at the Oxford English Dictionary Online’s definition of the word “teacher”. The dictionary defines the word “teacher” as, “One who or that which teaches or instructs; an instructor; also fig.; spec. one whose function is to give instruction, esp. in a school”(“Teacher”). To further define what a teacher does, the American Heritage College Dictionary defines the word “teach” as:
- To impart knowledge or skill to. 2. To provide knowledge of; instruct in. 3. To condition to a certain action or frame of mind. 4. To cause to learn by example or experience. 5. To advocate or preach. 6. To carry on instruction on a regular basis. –intr. To give instruction, esp. as an occupation (“Teach”).
As a preschool teacher, I instruct, provide, and impart knowledge to the children in my class, my occupation is to give instruction. My job as a preschool teacher is to prepare children for their continuation to kindergarten and to instill in them the tools they need to be happy and helpful people. My job involves planning and executing a full curriculum, lesson plans, projects, discipline, progress reports, parent conferences, and much more. My day follows a schedule that is planned down to the minute with stimulating, fun, and educational activities. I incorporate learning into everything I do. I start my day usually with a room already full of children awaiting my lead. I start by serving snacks and then begin with my lesson of the day. We talk about the day of the week and count numbers on the calendar; we identify our names and begin recognizing letters in the alphabet. We talk about the weather and whatever else they want to tell me, which usually includes but is not limited to, what they had for dinner, where they are going this weekend and that daddy doesn’t like mommy’s new haircut. After everyone has said their piece we continue on with a story usually related to the theme of the day, a song or finger play, a movement activity which usually also involves the learning of some concept such as body parts or colors and then we discuss our theme. We then move on to free play where the children build, explore with magnets, pretend, draw, paint, and sit for a teacher-guided project related to the theme, all the while learning how to socialize, share, help each other, solve problems, and best of all play. Then it is time to go outside to the playground and this time is not without its lessons. Here the children learn how to ride a tricycle, build a sand castle, climb a ladder, throw a ball, kick a ball, and swing on a swing. Then it’s lunchtime when they learn how to sit and socialize with their friends and clean up after themselves. Then it is nap time which is a much-needed rest for the children and the teacher. After nap time, I serve an afternoon snack and another book and review the theme for the day. We then have a special activity such as a group game and then back out to the playground and time to go home. All of this interspersed with about 20 bathroom breaks, 10 hurt feelings that needed mending, 5 scraped knees, and maybe a bad word or two. Teaching is what I do, I do more than supervise, I educate. I believe that what I do on a daily basis proves that I am a teacher. I provide these children with the most important lessons they will ever learn in life and the lessons that they will take with them throughout their lives.
Research shows the importance of preschool education on children’s future success. “Scientific findings indicate that learning and brain development are truly interdependent and that what happens early in development has lasting and important consequences” (Ramey 473). It is common knowledge that children begin learning as soon as they are born. They learn their mother’s face, her voice, and they learn that if they cry their needs are met, as Craig and Sharon Ramey state in their essay “Early Learning and School Readiness: Can Early Intervention Make a Difference”:
During the first 24 months of life, children’s acquisition of language is highly associated with their mothers’ speech to them. By 2 years of age, children whose mothers speak to them frequently and responsively have vocabularies that are 8 times greater than those of children whose mothers speak less frequently (474).
This learning does not stop here, it continues throughout their lives, yet it is what children learn when they are young that helps them to excel in life and gives them the character to be good people. If a child learns that if he hits someone they listen to him, and no one ever corrects this behavior, he will continue on being abusive. If a child is never taught the letters of the alphabet, he will struggle later on in his schooling. If a child is never shown love he will never learn how to love others. Children are easily influenced and without proper guidance and education, it is much harder for them to succeed. We have all seen the stories of children who grow up in inner cities, surrounded by poverty, drugs, and violence. Most of these children were not given a preschool education and perhaps because of this, they struggle throughout school. Most of these children will continue the cycle that their parents set forth and remain poor, drug dealers or users, or violent people. There are always a few success stories, of children overcoming the odds and being successful adults. But that is just it, the odds are against them. These ideas are echoed in the essay “Early Learning and School Readiness: Can Early Intervention Make a Difference?”:
The scientific evidence affirms that children who do not have positive early transitions to school…are those most likely to become inattentive, disruptive, or withdrawn. Later, these same students are the most likely to drop out of school early; engage in irresponsible, dangerous, and illegal behaviors; become teen parents; and depend on welfare and numerous public assistance programs for survival (Ramey 473).
These children, during their most influential years, were never given the tools to succeed. They were not taught that drugs can kill, violence is unacceptable, and that through education you can rise above poverty. “By providing children in the pre-K years with a rich array of effective learning opportunities”, they stand a much better chance at acquiring academic success in the future (Ramey 473). The younger years of a child’s life are critical in defining who they will become when they are older. Education is the key, without it there is no hope for a brighter future, and preschool is where it all begins. The things that a child learns in preschool are what will help them to have the confidence and the knowledge to succeed in their later schooling. A child’s preschool education is the most important education they will receive and therefore preschool teachers are the most important teachers in a child’s life.
My hope is that you now have a better understanding of what a preschool teacher is and what they do. There should be no confusion between preschool teachers and babysitters. Preschool teachers educate children so that they may be better equipped to succeed in kindergarten and even later on in life. There should be no doubt that preschool teachers are just as much teachers as K-12 teachers are. Preschool teachers teach children letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and many others things, and as we know these are the building blocks of intelligence. There should also be no doubt that preschool teachers are the most important teachers in a child’s life, other than their parents. The preschool years are the most influential years and if a child has a full grasp of introductory education they are better equipped to achieve once they reach kindergarten.
- “History of Preschool.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2006. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
- “Preschool.” The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2006. Oxford University Press. Oxford English Dictionary.
- “Preschooling.” The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2006. Oxford University Press. Oxford English Dictionary.
- Ramey, Craig T. and Sharon L. Ramey. “Early Learning and Scholl Readiness: Can Early Intervention Make a Difference?” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 50.4 (2004): 471-49.
- Richey, Herman G. “Preschool Education.” Review of Educational Research. 9 (1939): 337-339.
- “Teach.” The American Heritage College Dictionary. 3rd ed. 1997.
- “Teacher.” The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2006. Oxford University Press. Oxford English Dictionary.
- Tietze, Wolfgang and Karin Ufermann. “An International Perspective on Schooling for 4-Year-Olds.” Theory into Practice. 28 (1989): 69-77.