What Do We Want From Our Teachers?

SEEC’s Executive Director, Meredith McMahon’s latest Director blog:

In the last few months there’s been quite a bit of discussion about early childhood teachers, what kind of training is necessary, how to support them once they enter the classroom, how to compensate them in a way that keeps them working in early childhood classrooms and not higher paying public or private schools.  Here in DC a debate continues about what level of credentialing the Office of the State Superintendent of Education should require for lead teachers.  The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) currently has an initiative, Power to the Profession, meant to seek unity around qualifications, competencies, and qualifications. These many considerations point to that greater question, who do we want our early childhood educators to be?  How can an early childhood educator know what we want when we, as a field, don’t yet know or agree?


At SEEC we have a pretty strong sense of what we want in our educators. We embrace the notion of the well-educated teacher, and we look for that in all of our educators, not just our preschool and kindergarten teachers. When some might question the need for an infant or toddler teacher to have formal education course work we see it as essential. Without a strong understanding of child development how can you purposefully plan rich experiences that maximize the incredible brain development that we know is happening in these first years? At SEEC these teachers choose toys, objects, and books that push our youngest learners to reach just a little beyond where they are, always guided with love, support, and rich language. Would they create the same learning opportunities if they did not have that clear understanding of what’s happening developmentally? Combined with their natural talent and joy for working with the youngest children, our infant teachers design classroom and community experiences that truly enrich the days of these little ones. And the same thing is happening across all of our classrooms and programs.


At SEEC we know it’s not just about the formal learning our teachers have experienced themselves that has such a positive impact on the classroom, it’s also the creativity and flexibility they bring to their work that combines to create incredible learning opportunities for the children at SEEC. We look for those educators who embrace the idea of children as capable learners who are ready for concepts often dismissed as too complex for young children. We ask our faculty to push themselves as educators, drawing on the current interests of their students, rather than relying on tried and true lessons from years past. And we ask them to regularly put new ideas into context for the children, using community resources, which we’re so fortunate to have in the form of our many museums and gardens. What we ask of them is not easy – they become quasi-experts in new topics regularly [think lemurs, ancient civilizations, farm to table] and they do so willingly.


SEEC educators embody the idea of life-long learning that we hope to instill in our children by continuing to push themselves to constantly hone their teaching practice. Our faculty embrace the idea of professional growth, seeking out constructive feedback and ways to push themselves. They soak up creative ideas for their classrooms at every opportunity, and they support each other as a community of educators, sharing resources and classroom strategies. We purposefully look for educators with a growth mindset, who believe they’re always learning and have the capacity to better their teaching. That mindset as part of our culture, gives us such strength, and I find myself constantly in awe of their dedication to themselves, SEEC, and the ECE field.

So at SEEC we have a clear vision of who we want as educators and why, but we, too, struggle with the same concerns early childhood schools everywhere face. We ask our educators to take on a role with such great consequences without adequately compensating them for the vital role they play and the immense value they bring to our community. We know the importance of these earliest years, and we also know the impact that high quality learning experiences can have on future learning and life itself. Yet we still struggle to compensate our early childhood educators for the incredibly important work that they do. A recent New York Times story pointed to the many challenges of teachers in the early childhood field and highlighted the issues we already know we need to solve, and much of it hit very close to home.  At SEEC we continue to work towards salaries that are comparable to public or private schools, commensurate with the education & experience we expect our educators to have, but we still have work to do.  We look to elevate the importance of our faculty’s work whenever we have a platform to do so. We offer them autonomy over their own classrooms, from the curriculum right down to the paint color, knowing that they are well-trained and capable of crafting exceptional experiences for the children in their classrooms. We look for opportunities for our faculty to share their own work with other educators, stretching beyond the bounds of their own classrooms. Beyond SEEC we’ll continue to look for ways to lend our voice to this important discussion, knowing that our work, and our focus – the youngest children – is too important not to.