Teacher Focus: Survey Reveals Strengths, Challenges Facing Early Childhood Educators

Clearly, a central part of any well-run early childhood learning effort is the teacher, provider, or caregiver. And one way to determine not only strengths but opportunities for improvement can come from taking a closer look at what these teachers might be facing.

That’s what the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska undertook last September, when it released a new study titled Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Survey: A Focus on Providers and Teachers.

Said Samuel J. Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute: “Teachers and child care providers are fundamental to young children achieving their potential and growing into capable and confident young people. How we prepare, compensate, and support these professionals is a critical issue facing families, communities, and the state of Nebraska.”

The Institute provides background for the report: “Low compensation, lack of health and retirement benefits, uneven professional preparation, and stress are among the everyday challenges confronted by the more than 1,600 participants in the study. The survey is the largest, most comprehensive ever of the state’s early childhood workforce. Participants represented four early childhood settings—licensed home-based child care programs, licensed center-based programs, public Prekindergarten programs, and elementary schools serving children in Kindergarten through Grade 3.”

The report makes clear just how key the role of individual educators is in terms of impact on – and influence with – children in their early learning years:

Children who form strong relationships with adults feel safe to explore their environments, which is essential to learning and development. The day-to-day interactions that occur between adults and young children advance children’s language, critical thinking, social-emotional development, and children’s success in school and life. Since nearly 80 percent of Nebraska children are enrolled in some type of early care and education during their early years, it is necessary to have a skilled, informed, and diverse workforce, across settings, to support children’s development.

The survey reveals important insights, many of which are relevant not just in Nebraska, but nationwide. For example, the teachers “tend to have considerable experience in the field—12 years or more—which demonstrates a commitment to their work.” However, other findings show that these teachers “do not consistently receive livable wages and employer-sponsored benefits, and some must rely on public assistance and second jobs.”

The survey’s conclusions include:

  • “With growing diversity in the background of Nebraska’s young population, there is a need for more racial and ethnic diversity among all early childhood teaching staff.”
  • “Findings point to the need for better and more consistent training to ensure teachers feel well-prepared to teach children and engage families.”
  • “Efforts should be made to increase access to higher education across the state, enabling rural and urban teachers, and teachers working in various settings, equal access to advanced degrees.”
  • “Teachers need livable wages and employer-sponsored benefits in order to care
    for themselves and their families, and avoid reliance on public assistance and second jobs.”
  • “Efforts should be made to support the psychological well-being of the early childhood workforce, including lessening teachers’ stress and depression, to ensure all teachers are capable of their best work on behalf of young children.”

Said Susan Sarver, director of workforce planning and development at the Buffett Institute: “If we want to provide high-quality care and learning experiences for young children, we must invest in the adults who provide it. The research is clear that if we do so, everyone benefits—children, families, employers, and communities.”

This video presents highlights from the presentation of findings of the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Survey.

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