As the new school year is approaching, our center is facing the same problem we have faced the last twelve years. Teacher shortage. Our particular center employs about 35 teachers, assistants, substitutes, and administrative support staff. This school year we are looking to fill 10 of those positions. We lost nearly 30% of our staff. That may sound unreasonably high, and it is, but it is typical. Typical not only for our center, but for the field as a whole. We are a lab school for our local community college and so should have a direct pipeline for teachers for our center. However, we face shortages like this every year and we are not alone. There are many reasons we face this problem year after year.
Increased Minimum Credentials
There is a big push to raise the minimum requirements for early childhood educators. This is great news and very beneficial to students and to the early education field. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) rolled out minimum requirements for preschool teachers that were to take affect in 2019. The requirements were that 75% of lead teachers hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher in Early Childhood Education or related field. In addition, 50% of assistant teachers and teacher’s aides were required to have an Associate’s degree. Highly qualified teachers means a richer educational experience for students. However, NAEYC had push-back from early learning centers on these requirements. The majority of centers simply could not meet these requirements because of the teacher shortage. In addition, a higher degree resulted in the need to offer a higher salary, a problem for a field with very narrow profit margins. In response, NAEYC relaxed the requirements and now lead teachers are required to have any higher education degree with a minimum hours of early childhood educational training, and assistants and aides only need to be working toward a certificate (the equivalent of 12 higher education credits). This is bad news for students but a necessary change until we figure out how to make the field more attractive to potential college students.
There is a large disparity in the wages of preschool teachers vs. elementary teachers. This holds true even when the teachers have the same credentials. The U.S. Department of Education reports that preschool teachers make a national median wage of $28,570, while kindergarten teachers make an average of $51,640. The gap gets even higher when looking at elementary teachers (excluding kindergarten) who make an average of $54,890 annually. What this means is that preschool teachers who pursue a Bachelor’s degree choose to leave preschool and join the school district for a higher wage. When you consider that many private preschools can only afford to offer part-time positions it is easy to see why good teachers are hard to find.
Burnout contributes to turnover rates in a significant way. Caring for young children in a huge responsibility that comes with many stressful circumstances. Children this age are just learning to regulate their emotions and more and more students are needing intensive interventions in this area. Teachers are often with students from early morning to evening with very few breaks. Children this age require a significant amount of teacher support which means teachers have to be “on” for long periods of time. In addition, there are not a significant amount of substitutes available and so teachers are working when they are sick, leading to a feeling of being unsupported. Parents of preschool age children have very high expectations (as they should) for the services they are paying for. Some parents look at preschool, not as a gentle introduction to social interaction and play based learning, but as a means for their child to be “ahead of the game” when they enter Kindergarten. These parental expectations can cause teachers to introduce content that is not developmentally appropriate, leading to challenging behaviors, frustration, and a sense of failure both for the student and the teacher when they are not able to reach those expectations.
Lucky for us, there are advocacy groups who are actively working on addressing all of these issues and more. Feel free to share your thoughts on preschool teacher turnover in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you!