Preschool boys with book

I Am an Early Childhood Educator. I Should Be Shaping Early Childhood Policy.

“What do you think about Archie’s behavior?” My director flipped through my behavior observations. “It needs to change,” I replied. Over the next hour we discussed Archie’s home situation, daily interactions, and the impact on his learning. I left excited thinking we could finally create a plan together. Weeks later, the director walked into my classroom holding Archie’s behavior plan that I was to carry out. There was no thinking through the details and no collaboration.

The next few weeks were disastrous. The plan didn’t take into account the other 23 children in our classroom, lack of aid, daily schedule, or tools available to us. It reflected nothing of our prior conversation. On paper it was a solid plan; in reality, it was completely ineffective for Archie’s needs.

In my 10+ years of experience in early childhood education and care, I’ve noticed a consistent absence of educators’ voices guiding change. Decision makers, like the director of my center, have a macro perspective on what needs to change for our students. Educators like me bring an invaluable micro perspective, rooted in our experience and expertise in an early childhood classroom. Whether it is a behavior plan or state-level policy, we can ensure that it is well designed, well received by teachers, and well implemented. 

Illinois Must Keep Listening to Early Childhood Educators

The Illinois Early Childhood Education and Care Funding Commission recently submitted recommendations to the governor on how to establish a system that provides equitable access to high-quality early childhood education and care for all children birth through five. This is a chance for our state to reimagine early education and care as a system that more effectively serves our state’s children. I am encouraged by the commission’s statements in town halls and in meetings. The commissioners have recognized the integral part play has in early childhood, for example, and they have included stakeholder engagement in their recommendations.

As these move forward, Illinois should continue ensuring educators’ voices are heard throughout this process. It’s likely the Early Learning Council (ELC) will have a role in helping to plan next steps for the recommendations. The ELC can continue to ensure teacher stakeholder involvement by including us during the planning phase and adding two teacher representatives to the advisory body that will consider the Commission’s recommendations. Even if the ELC doesn’t become involved, a teacher representative should be present in any advisory bodies considering the Commission’s recommendations. The teacher representatives should inform discussions and decisions that involve education, workforce equity, professional support and development, and training opportunities, and should also have the same decision-making rights as the other representatives in the body. 

These representatives can be current teachers or teacher assistants. We can further inform the discussion by creating a teacher advisory council to express our field’s collective concerns to the teacher representatives, so they can then relay these to the ELC. Regular communication with early childhood educators in our state will bring a broader perspective on what would create better change in the field.

With Educator Input, We Can Support Our Youngest Learners

The governor asked the commission to think boldly, and they have. The commissioners have provided transparency and welcomed providers, parents, and teachers into the discussion. Decision makers should remain intentional and ensure that our voices are present throughout the process. I’m confident that decisions about early education and care made with educators present will create practical solutions, good policies, and a better future for more children like Archie.

After the original plan backfired, my director, Archie’s parents, and I met and created a new plan to address his needs. He left preschool ready for kindergarten. His story serves as proof of what a well-functioning early care and learning system that allows all children to move on to the next phase of their education successfully can accomplish. Our voices can help Illinois get there.

Photo by Andrew Ebrahim on Unsplash.

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Erean Mai

Erean Mai

Erean Mei teaches kindergarten at KIPP One Primary in Chicago, Illinois. She is a 2020-2021 Teach Plus Illinois Early Childhood Educator Policy Fellow.

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