Did you know that by a child’s third birthday he or she should be able to throw a ball, feed themselves and ride a tricycle? It’s easy to take these simple activities for granted but at some stage in all our lives, someone took the time to teach us how to do them. None of these activities would be possible for a 3-year-old if they weren’t educated properly at an early age. Enter ECE professionals.
Early childhood education (ECE) is about educating children between the ages of 0-8 years old. It’s a field that is projected to grow by 25 percent through 2020 and perhaps the biggest reason it is a highly sought after career is because of the rewarding nature of the work.
“I have been teaching early childhood [education] for over 40 years, and without sounding too corny, I have the best job in the world,” says New York City ECE teacher Janet Miserandino.
Putting aside the obvious excitement in Miserandino’s response, the role of an ECE educator is incredibly important. These professionals work to build the social and emotional skills that little ones need to succeed in school and in life.
But with great reward comes great responsibility.
We caught up with a handful of current ECE teachers to talk about the field and what it takes to become a great ECE educator. Here’s what they said:
1. Working in ECE is about leadership
Howard University professor Oliver McGee believes early childhood education is about leadership. “I believe elementary and secondary school teaching is a national service of leadership, governance and stewardship,” he says.
Think about teachers you have had in the past. Those teachers that stand out in your memory probably helped lead you through school and encouraged you to push through barriers. They were also the teachers that probably instilled in you the idea that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.
“Leadership in teaching honors kids, showing them the way through virtuous values,” McGee says.
2. Working in ECE is about Passion
Rasmussen College School of Education coordinator Ann Caitlin feels the most important characteristic for future ECE teachers is passion. “A person should pursue a career in early childhood education if he or she has a passion for supporting the success of children and families as well as a true desire to advocate for those who do not have a voice,” she says.
Thirty percent of young teachers leave within the first five years of starting out their careers, according to findings from the National Commission on Teaching America’s Future. The reasons given for the overwhelming teacher attrition include budget cuts, lack of structure in the workplace and the test-crazed education culture.
While every workplace is different, every workplace also has its own challenges, barriers and frustrations. In order to get past those frustrations, you have to be passionate about what you do. That is particularly important when the future success of children is at stake.
3. More Males Needed in ECE
While the presence of men in early childhood programs has received notable attention over the years, the field of ECE is a traditionally female-dominated career in which men make up only 5.2 percent. In fact, the percentage of male ECE teachers has been decreasing since 1980 and, according to some experts, the implications of those decreasing numbers could be damaging for young children.
“There is a desperate need for more male teachers,” says Brad Hines, founder of TeachBoys.org. “The younger age bracket you go, fewer men are teaching. [That age of student] is often when it is extremely important for there to be a male figure in the classroom.”
4. Working in ECE is a Gift
Gifts come and go but teachers are the types of gifts that make a memorable and lasting impression on the lives of their students. But it’s not just a one-way street. Teachers can make an impression on kids, but any good teacher will tell you that their students impact them profoundly as well.
“[Teaching] is an opportunity to impact a child's life in a positive way,” says Dawn Richards, pre-K teacher at Imagine Schools West Gilbert in Phoenix (Ariz.). “You are their home away from home. They are recognized as little individuals in a loving environment.”
Not everyone is meant to teach, but if you’re seriously considering earning a degree and getting into the field, it’s important to discover the skills you possess that you can one day give your students.
The next steps
Hopefully these current ECE teachers have given you a better look into the world of education. It is a profession for which a lot is expected, but a lot is also gained.
So if you’re not at the point in your life where you’re qualified to jump right into the world of education, but you’re still interested in one day being a leader, an inspiration and a gift for young children, be sure to check out early childhood resources for more information on the field.
Also be sure to check out another article for a look at the differences between ECE vs. elementary education.