“Early educators’ skills, knowledge and well-being are inseparable from the quality of children’s early learning experiences.”
– Marcy Whitebook, Director, Center for the Study of Child Care Employment
Imagine–you’re bringing your child to his or her first day of preschool. If you walk into Boyle Heights’ PUENTE Learning Center, and see Diana Juarez—one of LAUP’s 2017 Early Educators of the Year—at the head of the classroom, you know you’re getting a high-quality teacher.
It’s not just that Ms. Juarez was honored with LAUP’s Dr. Celia C. Ayala Award. Or knowing she fulfilled California’s Child Development requirements with her studies at UCLA and Cal State LA. It’s the warmth and confidence she radiates toward parents and children alike. It’s her lifelong drive to deliver the kind, caring, quality early education that Boyle Heights deserves – the community in which she grew up and is now pouring back into.
So, what about your child’s own preschool teacher?
Choosing a quality early education program is one of the most important decisions a parent will make. The quality of preschool childcare has a direct impact on your child’s ability to learn, build healthy relationships and become the best they can be. What tools do teachers bring into the classroom, and what are the different ways they acquire and hone these skills?
In other words, who is teaching the people that teach our children?
Formal Education Requirements
First, there are the formal education requirements. These vary according to state and locality, and often differ depending upon how the center is funded. There are also multiple levels of licensing (to be a teacher, director, etc.). Generally speaking, these are the minimums for California:
- College Units: Teachers must complete 24 college units in child development/ECE and 12 additional general education units to obtain a license. An associate degree (or higher) in ECE or child development will also fulfill this requirement.
- Hours Worked: Teachers additionally fulfill requirements for hours working in the field under the supervision of a licensed provider. (Every teacher also carries up-to-date certification in Child & Infant CPR and pediatric first aid).
- Child Development Permit: A Child Development Permit is required, and is subject to renewal every five years. Renewal requires 105 hours of professional growth courses (continuing education).
Legal licensing is only part of the picture, and expert opinion and anecdotal evidence both suggest it’s merely the tip of the “quality” iceberg.
LAUP’s own guidelines encourage parents to observe a wide range of evidence to help discern quality in preschool, including whether the teachers and staff are patient and receptive to each child’s needs, attend to them when they become upset, and communicate well with parents about their child’s individual development and progress. (Our complete infographic can be seen here)
Before Lilia Vazquez-Hernandez stepped into her role as Professional Development Specialist at LAUP, she conducted classroom observations. Armed with the Quality Rating & Improvement System (QRIS) matrix to rate the quality of classroom environments, she developed a keen sense of why great teachers are so successful. Here’s a hint: the word “passion” comes up again and again.
“A high quality teacher is someone who is passionate about teaching children,” says Vazquez-Hernandez. “Excitement to come into the classroom, creating a positive climate, taking the time to build relationships.”
She reports that many of the most passionate teachers credit continuing education training for keeping them engaged and fired up, and feels it greatly improves teacher quality. “Education doesn’t just take place in a two- or four-year college, or a graduate program; it happens everywhere,” she says. “Conferences, workshops, they’re important…to stay up to date in new research and techniques. Parents want to know you’re continually investing in their children.”
LAUP’s growing role in supporting the raising of workforce quality reflects the importance of ongoing training in the ECE field. One means is by assisting teachers in resuming their degree studies while working in the field, whenever possible. In many of LA’s highest need communities, however, it can be financially and logistically difficult for teachers to commit to going back to school to further their education. LAUP’s Professional Development opportunities fill the gap, offering teachers a way to advance their learning, as well as hone their own personal passions.
Professional development can have a focus on curriculum, child development, diversity, and other technical principles and disciplines; but some of the most effective professional development deals less with classroom nuts and bolts, and more with the individual. LAUP has been developing self-care training to help teachers achieve personal balance.
Vazquez-Hernandez explains, “When teachers start learning how to invest in themselves, they get even more out of professional development. The classes are designed to improve the environment for the child, but the teacher receives equal benefit.” In fact, self-care is becoming a key piece of the QRIS, to prevent burnout and re-ignite the passion that initially brings teachers to the field. And when a teacher brings fresh skills to the classroom, exercising new “muscles,” quality rises.
The encouraging news for families concerned about quality, but unfamiliar with the tech specs of teacher education, is you may already have the most important tool: Intuition. If your gut instinct says someone is passionate and dedicated and a good match for your family, you could be tapping into what experts agree are the most important markers of quality.