What does it mean to support early care and education teachers?

On Wednesday, HyeSook and I had the pleasure of attending a launch event for T.E.A.C.H., a national scholarship model for early care and education teachers that's coming to Washington, and will be administered by the National Black Child Development Institute. 

The room was packed with directors and owners of early care and education centers, teachers, and advocates as well as representatives from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and other government agencies. Judging by the number of questions after the presentation on T.E.A.C.H., this was a crowd that has been very hungry for more professional development and education opportunities for teachers. 

Joan Lombardi, a national expert on child care who currently oversees early childhood development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, gave the keynote. Having worked in the field for so long, she had some apt observations. 

For instance, the term "child care" has fallen of favor over the years. We now call it "early care and education" to give teachers their due respect. The only thing that hasn't changed, Joan observed, is the compensation. While it has increased, it has not nearly kept pace with the cost of living and the compensation levels for other careers which have been traditionally the domain of women. Joan suggested we send every policy maker to an infant and toddler room so they can see what teachers have to do in a day. (I think that's a great idea!)

T.E.A.C.H. scholarships grew out of an effort to address the compensation issue in the field as well as the twin issue of turnover. To qualify for higher wages and to meet the field's heightened standards for quality, teachers need to get more training. But community and family-based centers in particular, have a hard time paying higher wages for more qualified teachers (particularly in this economy). And there's another conundrum: Teachers who do have higher levels of education and training are less likely to stay in community- or family-based centers -- they now qualify for higher-paying jobs in schools as well as other opportunities. 

T.E.A.C.H. addresses those issues by requiring buy-in and commitment from the outset from the teacher and the center director. Both share the costs of the teacher's continuing education, and the teacher must commit to staying in his or her current job for a year after earning a degree. The center must agree to pay a bonus to the teacher for every semester completed toward a degree and to pay a higher wage once the teacher has graduated. 

The fact remains that there aren't a lot of great entry-level opportunities in the early care and education field. T.E.A.C.H. and other programs that focus on professional development and higher education are a key to building a career ladder that can help centers retain great teachers and attract new recruits, while enhancing the quality of care children receive. 

T.E.A.C.H. is a win-win-win for D.C.'s teachers, centers and children. So let's all work together to ensure that it's a great success!