Professionalizing Early Childhood Education: Am I Ready to Be Part of the Solution?

A vocation is not a profession just because those in it choose to call it one. It must be recognized as such.

(John Goodlad, 1990)

At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue being a participant of the webinar by Stacie Goffin. I thought, “I don’t want to be involved in the political aspects of the ECE career. What I want is to spend my days as an educator in a classroom, directly interacting with the children–not sitting behind a desk rallying for something I may not care about. So what if the field of early childhood education is not professionalized? For the most part, I don’t care about my pay as long as it’s reasonable and I’m making a difference in young children’s lives.”

Was I so naive in thinking that.

Why ECE should become a recognized profession:

According to Goffin (2017), “By not answering what defines and bounds ECE as a field of practice, we are allowing children to spend their days in programs of uneven quality and effectiveness.”

She definitely got my attention with that statement. It was the biggest take-away I had from the whole webinar and what I still mull over a day later.

I always claim to be so passionate about working with children and wanting the best for them, but I never stopped to think about the significance of professionalizing the field of ECE. I mean, sure, I want decent pay for educators, universal care, and a standard quality of early learning programs across the board. Little did I know that that’s what defining the bounds of ECE as a field of practice will do.

Let’s back track a little bit and talk about what a profession is.

Goffin (2017) explained that “professions are a purpose-driven coherent system of preparation, practice, and accountability. . . . It rests on three pillars: (1) roles, scopes of practice, and competencies; (2) formal preparation or professional degrees (cf. academic degrees); and (3) self-governance tied to professional standards of practice.”

So in professionalizing early childhood education as a field of practice, “teachers and other roles in the profession will be consistently prepared and competent in their practice regardless of program setting; families will have authentic choices when selecting a program; and children will have greater prospects for reaching their potentials” (Goffin, 2017).

Doesn’t Ontario have the College of Early Childhood Education (CECE) that governs the field as a profession?

Yes, “[the] College is the first professional self-regulatory college for early childhood educators in Canada” (CECE), but there is still a long way for the field of early childhood education to be recognized and respected by the public for its specialized knowledge and practice.

To begin with, educators do not receive professional pay, with minimum wages at par with the province’s general minimum wage (that which applies to most employees). This means that in spite of the specialized knowledge of child development and curriculum in the early years, we may, for example, receive the same rate as someone who works part-time at a fast food restaurant.

Why does compensation matter?

Decent pay attracts individuals prepared and committed to the field of ECE and retains this talent. With a lack of support from the government for professional pay, there is a high turnover rate, affecting the quality of early learning programs.

[Low] wages and limited access to benefits and pensions mean that qualified and experienced ECEs cannot afford to stay in the career they love.

(AECEO, Professional Pay for Professional Work)

Goffin (2017) said, “Becoming a profession won’t happen unless we make it happen.”

So what’s next? Am I ready to be part of the solution?

I sure am.

As a start, I invite you to join me in supporting AECEO’s campaign: Professional Pay for Professional Work by signing the petition and sharing it with your friends and colleagues just as I have.

Professional Pay for Professional Work from AECEO on Vimeo.

Next step is to challenge the idea that early childhood educators are merely baby-sitters by doing our best in the field and showing them that we are highly skilled professionals. Additionally, by speaking up whenever the opportunity presents itself, we educate others of the importance of our role in society.

However, it’s important to note that in our journey to be recognized and respected as a profession, we need to live in two spaces.

Mending the Present and Creating ECE’s Future

There’s nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.

(R. Buckminster Fuller)

As mentioned we still have a long way to go for our society to completely accept the field of early childhood education as a profession. In addition to the compensation issue, the Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) program in Ontario brings about another matter of whether ECEs in FDK classrooms (Designated ECEs, or DECEs) should have the same roles and level of respect that kindergarten teachers (OCTs) have in the school. At present, there is a huge variety in opinion as to whether DECEs should be considered as equals to OCTs.

As we work for professional pay and towards equality in the FDK classrooms, we also face such questions as:

How would older generations of ECEs get up to par with new regulations? Would professional development programs be enough? What if they fail to meet the expectations of the College of ECE because they had a very different training? Would that mean they lose their jobs (and perhaps struggle to find something else after being in the field for so long)?

What does this all mean for the newer generations of ECEs? Would future educators be required to complete bachelor’s degrees before being able to register with CECE and call themselves ECEs? What would their field practice be like if they turn out to be more knowledgeable and capable than their mentors and supervisors? Would they apply this knowledge or would they conform to what is already happening in the early learning classrooms?

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