Posts in this series, Moving Beyond False Choices for Early Childhood Educators, run every two weeks and are edited by Stacie G. Goffin, who provides this introduction to explain the series' intent. Previous posts are archived here, and to join the conversation on Twitter, use #beyondfalsechoices. To facilitate interaction among ideas presented in the series, Goffin offers opening comments:
Elbert's blog, like Sach's', hones in on one of early childhood education's sectors, in this instance, in-home family child care. An in-home family child care provider, she takes a strong stance on the importance of in-home caregivers' preparation for their role and supports their being required to have four-year degrees. In the process, she underscores the importance of supports such as those outlined by Russell.
When in June of 2017, Albert Wat wrote that a “four-year degree should be the standard for ECE teachers,” I began digging deeper into my feelings about the early care and education (ECE) profession. I’ve concluded his assertion is correct and want to be sure it’s inclusive of in-home early childhood educators.
I run an early learning program for preschool-age children in my home and hold a Master’s of Science in Early Childhood Studies with a focus on Teaching & Diversity. Especially in light of Wat’s assertion, my accomplishment should be a source of pride. Yet when sharing what I do for a living, I instead often feel belittled. After revealing my education level, I typically get a bewildered look and a response along the lines of, “Why do you need a master’s degree to sit at home and watch cartoons with kids?” because they assume that loving and playing with children defines my work.
Unfortunately, this presumption is not unique to those outside of ECE. In-home childcare providers often express similar views. Too few of my colleagues understand it’s not enough to just love children, change their diapers and clothing, feed them, and play with them.
At the very least, in-home childcare providers need basic child development knowledge and training on developmentally appropriate practices so, for example, three-year-olds are not seated in front of a worksheet and expected to sit still and complete it and taught so many academics during the day that they have little time to play. Further, we need to be knowledgeable about community resources, proper nutrition, first aid, program administration, communicating with families, and more. Because we work alone, we assume every role involved in an ECE program.
Yet too many of us in the in-home based sector do not know these basics because we have not sought the formal education that would expand our knowledge base and alter our practices. While Head Start and pre-K programs increasingly are requiring their lead teachers to have bachelor’s degrees, based on conversations across Iowa, including a recent survey conducted to inform new QRIS expectations for this sector, in-home childcare providers are not following suit. Given what research tells us about degrees’ positive consequences, I’m stumped as to why in-home childcare providers aren’t interested in pursuing degrees.
As an in-home early childhood educator, I understand the logistical barriers. I run a full-time business during the day, work as a Continuing Education Instructor in the evenings and on weekends, participate on multiple committees, and volunteer weekly. I also have a husband and children with whom I want to spend time. Finding time to further one’s education is a balancing act, and too few supports are available for in-home providers’ formal preparation as early educators.
Further, as a middle class mother with limited income to spend on school (and financial aid already maxed out from a previous degree), I understand the financial barriers as well. I also hear from colleagues that they are intimidated by the age gap between themselves and students who have just graduated from high school. Others contend they will soon be retiring and do not see value in furthering their education. And still others consider themselves experts because of their accumulated experiences and view urgings to take college courses insulting.
Finally, there’s another barrier I understand only too well — the public’s degradation of in-home childcare providers. I routinely overhear myself being called “the sitter” or “the daycare lady.” I’m often considered a glorified babysitter, despite the prominently displayed diploma parents see each morning while hanging up their child’s coat.
For in-home childcare providers to be recognized as the professionals so many of us claim to be, we must step up to what this designation requires — acquiring more formal education. We must put in the time and possibly spend personal funds to prepare ourselves for the important work we do. Even if not as widely available as we might wish, Sue Russell’s blog makes evident that resources and supports are available to those of us ready to take this next step.
Children, families, and the ECE profession deserve better than the status quo. Stronger education guidelines should be in place for in-home childcare providers. Although other options are available, I support a bachelor’s degree as the preferable choice because it provides a thorough understanding of the topics that are core to working with children.
When in-home childcare providers become better educated, we will be better prepared not only to educate children but also their families, and to attract others to a field they would be proud to work in because we are respected as professionals, and maybe, just maybe, we would finally get those higher wages we deserve as well.