Whenever I’m asked to talk about the importance and influence of early childhood education, I think of a teacher named Ms. Jennifer.
Ms. Jennifer worked at a preschool I led about 15 years ago. One morning I was scheduled to observe her as she taught the day’s curriculum to her class of 16 children, all 3 years old.
As I entered the classroom, I witnessed the end of morning drop-off. I overheard as a parent told Ms. Jennifer of a pending divorce and asked for support during the transition. I listened as Ms. Jennifer shared with her co-teacher that another mother was concerned about her child’s language development. I watched as Ms. Jennifer approached a little boy, placed her hand gently upon his shoulder, spoke to him in soft tones, and de-escalated what was quickly becoming rough play. With tear-filled eyes, the little boy looked up at her and embraced her in a big hug.
Then, Ms. Jennifer started to sing a cleanup song, and the 16 children began to clean up their toys to join her in circle time. When I spoke with her later, I asked her about drop-off that morning. She smiled and shared that family counseling, easing parents’ concerns about their children’s development, behavioral intervention and hugs were as much a part of her teaching as the circle time I had come to observe.
Ms. Jennifer reminded me that early childhood education is more than teaching and learning. Early childhood education is the nurturing of a family, establishing a partnership between home and school, supporting a child’s social and emotional growth as much as their academic growth, and being the hug when the world feels too big. It is both the most difficult and the most rewarding job in education.
The Power of Early Childhood Education to Improve Children’s Lives
The early childhood field has changed from solely caretaking to nurturing and learning. Teachers are responsible for the health and safety of the child, and they are also responsible for implementing a curriculum.
An effective early childhood teacher can have a long-term impact on a child and their family. Multiple research studies have shown that children enrolled in high-quality early education have higher IQ scores than children who do not have such opportunities. Children who experience high-quality early childhood education also have higher reading and math achievement scores, fewer referrals for special education, and a higher likelihood of pursuing higher education. They are also less likely to suffer from depression.
The effects of high-quality early learning experiences even make a positive impact across generations. A recent study showed that the children of adults who had a high-quality preschool experience as a child also reaped the benefits of their parents’ early learning experience; they were more likely to be healthy, educated and employed than the children of adults who did not have those opportunities when they were young.
Advice for New Teachers
If you work with young children, you experience new discoveries, achievements and wonder each day, and you get to shape the next generation for our world. Revel in the impact you are having.
Connect with families. Parents see teachers as an extension of their own families. Partner with families in open communication to provide a seamless education from home to school and from school to home. Children need consistency and loving interactions from nurturing relationships to grow and thrive.
Explore the immense growth opportunities available to you. While you’ll likely begin as an assistant teacher, experience and the proper education credentials can take you to a lead teacher role. For those seeking additional growth, most preschools have multiple levels of leadership, each with increased degrees of responsibility. Few fields provide such clear growth paths, so realize that you are stepping into a field that can evolve with you.
Be committed and caring. Early childhood education gives children a head start on learning and life success. It truly is the best career in the world, and it needs committed, caring educators who are focused on shaping a better tomorrow by nurturing the children of today.
Dr. Lauren Starnes (vice president of early childhood education, research and development for Primrose Schools® 2020-2022) holds graduate degrees in developmental and child psychology and educational leadership and administration. Starnes has worked at every level of early childhood and elementary education, as a teacher, school leader and curriculum developer.