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Video: Teacher Stress and Low Compensation Undermine Early Learning

Being an early childhood educator is no walk in the park. The day starts early and most of educators’ time is spent on their feet. Whether they are building children’s literacy skills by reading stories, using toy dinosaurs to teach early math concepts, following children’s leads as they transform the classroom into a pirate ship, teaching conflict resolution when one pirate steals treasure from another, or cleaning up the seemingly endless messes -- they are working nonstop from the moment they arrive in the classroom.

Unfortunately, for all this effort in helping children to develop and learn, educators and other workers in early learning settings rarely receive the compensation, benefits, professional development, and supports they need. The following video, produced by New America, zooms in on the significance of the conditions faced by today's early education workforce.


In the video, Angie Garling, ECE Program Administrator for Alameda County, explains that, “Not only are teachers worried about paying their bills, many of our teachers are actually just worried about putting food on the table for their own families.” Quinetta Lewis, Director of St. Mary’s Preschool in West Oakland, explains that to get by her staff  “might drive for Uber in the afternoon. They’re working side jobs. And then they’re still trying to do work that they have to do here.”

Despite the growing research around the long-term benefits to children when they have opportunities for high-quality early education, wages for the workforce remain distressingly low. A 2014 report by UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) found that child care workers continue to earn poverty-level wages, and almost half qualify for public support programs. A recent examination of the Head Start workforce found that wages remain low even when teachers earn bachelor’s degrees. Those who are pre-K teachers in public schools often fare the best in terms of salary, and yet, according to the CSCCE report, even those members of the workforce are not usually compensated at the same level as elementary school teachers.

The National Academy of Medicine’s seminal Transforming the Workforce for Children from Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation report recognizes that working with young children is complex and challenging work, and puts forth a vision for ensuring this workforce has both the skills and supports they need to best serve young children. The quality of interactions between adults and children is what fosters children’s learning. But even the most well-intentioned and skilled teachers will struggle to serve children when they are worried about paying their bills and exhausted from working a second job.

And teacher well-being is about more than just compensation. As Garling shares in the video, teachers  “need to feel like they have input on the decisions that are made, that affect children. And they really need to also have some self-determination in choosing what kind of professional development path they choose.”

This video is part of New America’s new Transforming the Early Education Workforce: A Multimedia Guidebook, an interactive space that makes the key takeaways from the National Academy of Medicine’s report on the early childhood education workforce more digestible and actionable. If we are serious about transforming the workforce for young children, we need to ensure that we address educator’s quality of life as well as their knowledge and skills.

Our guidebook includes four additional videos produced by New America, which you can find here.