What Comes First Professionalism or Compensation?

This week we celebrate Labor Day. Wikipedia says Labor Day in the United States and Canada “honors the labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well being of the country”. As a labor force, early childhood educators are an important component of a thriving economy. We provide education and care for children as parents work to provide for their families and the needs of our community.

Compensation of educators is a topic related to labor that is discussed in Early Childhood Education and through our discussion many questions arise.

·      Are early childhood educators fairly compensated?

·      Why do teachers make a better living, have a union, and benefits for their work?

·      Many educators make little or less money than other professions with similar education      requirements or do they?

If early childhood educators are valuable to the economy, why are they not compensated accordingly?

I did some detective work trying to find answers to this question. The US Department of Education website says that the average annual salary for an ECE director is $39,568. The average annual salary for and ECE lead teacher is $31,158 and the average annual salary for an ECE teacher is $28,570. I realize that many in our profession do not work full time so the annual salaries could be much lower. Additionally the Department of Education states that the average annual salary for a kindergarten teacher is $51,640 and the average annual salary for an elementary teacher is $54,890.

According to the NAEYC, in early childhood education 30% of center based teachers and administration have a bachelors degree and 40% of workers in our profession have some college. On the other hand, The National Center for Education Statistics says that 39.9% of teachers have a bachelor’s degree and 47.7% of teachers have a master’s degree. This means the profession that most closely mirrors our own in practice, has 87% of the workforce with a bachelors degree or higher.

Are teachers compensated more for their work because of their professional preparation?

In early childhood development two pedagogies exist that closely mirror the teacher preparation practices of a traditional teacher program. In Montessori education, Guides (teachers) are trained in specific practices to implement an authentic Montessori education. In AMI (American Montessori International) training educators spend an entire school year and hundreds of hours learning and preparing to become a Montessori guide. In the research I have done, all training centers require the participant to have a prerequisite bachelors degree before starting Montessori training. In the AMI salary survey of 2015 the average annual salary for a trained primary (3-6years) guide is $45,758. The average annual salary for an elementary guide (6-12 years) is $51,130.

In Waldorf education a similar pattern is evident. In Sacramento, the Steiner College program for Waldorf education is a three-year program and to teach in most states the requirement is to have a teaching credential and that translates to at least a bachelor’s degree. I could not find any statistics about the percentage of degrees in Waldorf education but I did find that the average annual salary for a Waldorf teacher is $49,890.

When looking at Montessori and Waldorf numbers I came to the conclusion that early childhood educators who have standard professional preparation, such as Montessori and Waldorf, appear to earn significantly more than other early childhood educators. What is the general early childhood education field missing that is so different from Montessori and Waldorf?

In the book Professionalism in Early Childhood Education by Stephanie Feeney there are listed eight criteria for determining if an occupation is a profession.

1.     A specialized body of knowledge and expertise

2.     Prolonged Training that leads to a degree

3.     Rigorous requirements for entry to training and eligibility to practice.

4.     Standards of Practice

5.     Commitment to serving a significant social value

6.     Recognition as the only group in the society who perform a function

7.     Autonomy

8.     Code of ethics

For many years I worked in early childhood education and have always wished it to be a profession. I see glimpses of professionalism from time to time but I also see others who just “love children” and do not want to evolve or invest in their practice. I want all of our hard work to be compensated and for us to be looked upon as an equal to others in the education field. I am not sure we have come far enough in our preparation or organization to be in that sweet spot.