In Ohio, more than 82,000 early childhood educators have dedicated their careers to ensuring our young children — our state’s future — receive the nurturing care and early learning experiences that lead to healthy development and lifelong success. They are getting up early to make it work and they stay up late with worry, despite being paid one the lowest wages of frontline workers: an average hourly wage of $12.00/hour.
All children are born with the ability to reach their highest potential, and early childhood educators support children’s development during the most critical years of brain growth—before a child enters kindergarten. The research is clear; quality of care and education matters to the lives of young children, and educators are central to providing that quality.
This Teacher Appreciation Week, we are celebrating Sara Knapp, an early childhood educator at Kent State University Child Development Center, and a 2022 Groundwork Ohio Early Childhood Leadership Fellow. Together, we can tell all early childhood educators that we will listen to them, we will stand with them, and together we will act so that every child has an educator who feels respected and supported.
By: Sara Knapp, Class of 2022 Early Childhood Leadership Fellowship, Early Childhood Educator at Kent State University Child Development Center
Many credit Eleanor Roosevelt as the person who advocated for teachers to be recognized and appreciated in our nation, but less known is the story of African American teacher Mattie Whyte Woodridge who worked in a segregated school in Arkansas in the early 1940s. It was Mattie who won “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” four years running and who rather than enjoying her honor, wanted all teachers to feel honored for their dedicated work. It was Mattie who wrote letters to political and educational leaders and eventually First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for nearly a decade to recognize the contributions teachers made in society. One teacher's resilient action is the reason schools across the United States celebrate teachers in the month of May.
Mattie is a personal hero of mine because I share the same passion for educators in our nation. I cannot remember any specific lessons or activities that any of my teachers planned, but I can list a hundred ways they made me feel special and seen. It is these same feelings that I now try to evoke in my kindergarten students. As I enter my sixth year of teaching, I am in awe of the wonderful teachers who have shaped my life. Not only the teachers who guided me as a child, but the teachers whom I have had the privilege of working with and have been mentored by. I have witnessed teachers inspire students, make the impossible possible with asynchronous learning, put in countless hours of work outside contracted hours, transport students to school, buy supplies with their money, sacrifice time with their own families, work when they are sick, and even donate vacation days to colleagues who don't qualify for maternity leave. Teachers stepped up to the impossible task of distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. I saw many people praise teachers' dedication and invaluable efforts to provide meaningful learning experiences despite having no training to do so. They showed up as they always do to help children, families, and their communities. The teachers are simply amazing. However, they are not always treated fairly.
Teachers often work within systems that do not function properly. Many times, not receiving basic supplies for teaching, and not being paid for working extra hours, are scrutinized by the media and dismissed when they voice concerns for their students and students’ families. This leaves teachers feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and frankly, demoralized. Despite all these setbacks, teachers still show up. The most upsetting part of this reality is that despite all the effort and dedication teachers show, they are not paid fairly for their work. It is no wonder many incredible teachers are leaving the field not because they do not love their profession or because they cannot handle the pressure, but often because they simply cannot afford it. This is especially true in early childhood centers where the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports wages as low as $11.50 an hour for preschool teachers.
It's been 39 years since teacher appreciation week was established, but I am still left wanting more for teachers than recognition. Cambridge Dictionary defines appreciation as the act of recognizing someone's worth as a person or showing that you are grateful for something that person has done. I cannot think of a better way to show teachers what they are worth than by paying them a fair and livable wage. Highly qualified teachers deserve to be highly paid. Teachers deserve to be treated as the professionals that they are. I hope that this teacher appreciation week you will join me in honoring and advocating for all the seen and unseen educators who are shaping the children of our nation.
Ohio can continue to invest in Sara, and the early education workforce by maintaining the following investments and policies that were included in the House Omnibus Bill:
Targeted Infant & Toddler Child Care Capacity Building in Child Care Deserts: A new investment of $30 million in state funds to increase the capacity of local communities, specifically Appalachian and communities with high infant mortality rates, to provide safe and developmentally appropriate child care for infants and toddlers.
Child Care Eligibility: An expansion of the state’s publicly funded child care program from 142% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 160%, which would result in more than 15,000 children and families gaining access to care.
Preschool: An additional $61 million per year in Early Childhood Education grants, estimated to expand preschool to an additional 15,250 3- and 4-year-olds under 200% FPL.
We ask the state legislature to restore this cut made by the House to the governor’s proposal:
Child Care Capacity: An investment of $150 million of state ARPA funds to provide child care scholarships to direct care professionals including early childhood professionals and to increase infant and toddler child care capacity in communities throughout the state.
Even with these targeted investments, too many children and their families will still be left out as we struggle to recruit and retain qualified professionals to support their needs. They are just the beginning of what is needed to fully address the child care crisis facing kids, parents, child care professionals, and Ohio businesses, but they are a vital step in the right direction.