Preschool Teachers Are Facing Increasing Challenges and Low Wages

Supermajority Education Fund

January 29, 2020

Early childhood education teachers — nearly 1 in 5 of whom are Latinas — are increasingly required to have degrees of higher education to gain employment, despite wages remaining low, according to a new report released earlier this month by the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, UnidosUS (formerly known as the National Council of La Raza). This required education, however, doesn’t focus on how to help dual-language students, even though one in four students in public schools is Latinx.

The report, which is titled “Latina Teachers and the ‘BA Challenge’” and was released on Jan. 22, found that Latina preschool teachers have a large amount of experience in the field. Twenty-seven percent of Latina teachers have worked in preschool education between 10 and 15 years, while another 24 percent have worked in the field for more than 16 years. 

But changes in credentialing requirements have rendered this experience less valuable. Many preschool teachers across the country don’t have bachelor’s degrees, but thirty-five states now require “lead teachers in state-funded pre-K programs” to have at least a bachelor’s degree; this is a nine-state increase in the last ten years. Teachers without these degrees are also increasingly asked to show their enrollment in a degree program to gain employment. Report lead author Dr. Robert Stechuk told Supermajority News that in their focus groups with 94 Latina preschool teachers, researchers found that teachers were attending their own continuing education classes while working full-time to maintain their jobs. 

Because wages are so low in this field, however, the cost of continued education isn’t always worth gaining employment in the field for some teachers. According to the report, early childhood education teachers’ wages float around the poverty line — the median pay in 2018 for teachers ranged from $23,240 to $29,780 per year. One teacher told the researchers at a focus group in Philadelphia: “I knew I wasn’t going to be a rich woman with the career I picked. But I didn’t think I was going to be this poor either.”

“The compensation means we’re expecting teachers to show up every day to interact with children in a quality manner, but they’re paid so low that they qualify for food stamps,” Stechuk told Supermajority News. “Until we make significant changes to how teachers are compensated, the expectation that [education] quality will increase isn’t based on anything substantial.” 

This reality can drive some Latinas from the profession, which researchers expressed concern about, given that it’s particularly important to expose Latinx students to Latinx teachers at a young age. There are four ways Latina teachers particularly help the growing number of dual-language Latinx students: By supporting the development of the language spoken at home, providing cultural responsiveness, engaging with families, and identifying with their students’ lived experiences.

“Children’s early learning is powerful and consequential. The work early childhood teachers do is extremely important,” Stechuk told Supermajority News.

Read the full report, from UnidosUS, here.