June 4, 2021

An Important Shift: Childcare Teachers Viewed as Essential Workers

By Jessica Allison, Director of Education and Training

Before the pandemic, if you asked for a list of essential workers, a childcare teacher would not likely have made the list. Ask that same question a year later, and the list would be very different. It’s become apparent this year that childcare centers and their teachers are most definitely essential, and they should be treated as such.

The Importance of Experience

For many years, childcare educators were viewed as not quite a teacher and not quite a babysitter. Many childcare providers have felt that they are teachers even though they do not hold a teaching certificate or attended a four-year school for education. Early childhood education is a unique field where experience is valued just as much as education. Predicting a child’s behavior, wants, or needs due to years of experience working with young children is priceless and cannot be taught in a classroom.

Childcare Providers Went Above and Beyond

A New York Times article recently published discusses how childcare teachers handled the need to remain open while many other establishments, including schools, shut their doors. In the article, “Why Child Care Staff Had to Show Up While Teachers Worked Remotely,” Eliza Shapiro points out that not only did childcare teachers go above and beyond their typical responsibilities, but they filled many different roles like helping school-aged children with remote learning and developing new procedures to keep all of the children in care safe and healthy. Not only did childcare teachers do what was needed because there was a gap to fill, they did it because they care for the children, families, and communities they serve.

In a recent blog published by himama titled “How Childcare Providers Are Feeling After a Year of COVID-19,” several members of the early childhood field provided their thoughts on the pandemic and how it has changed the field. When asked if they thought parents’ perspectives have changed towards early childhood educators, each interviewee answered “yes.” They stated that not only did parents realize the hard work that goes into childcare each day, but they also gained respect for early childhood educators for stepping up during the pandemic and keeping their doors open to help the communities.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) also released a blog last year, “Child Care is Essential and Needs Emergency Support to Survive,” that discusses how “childcare is the backbone of our nation’s response to disaster and the road to recovery.” This highlights childcare educators as essential and talks about how early childhood education will continue to be essential as we navigate through the next year/s.

Positive Changes

We are beginning to see changes in recognition of childcare teachers as essential. Prioritizing childcare teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was a huge step and relief to many teachers who had been working in person throughout the pandemic. Many states are also looking to the early childhood teacher to partner with elementary schools to bridge the preschool and kindergarten readiness gap. Above all else, childcare teachers are advocating for themselves and for their field to gain the recognition it deserves. While the pandemic brought many heartbreaking and complicated changes, this change has been a positive one.