Teaching young children takes a different skill set than teaching older children, yet many states’ training programs are not preparing teachers for these special demands.
Experts have long noted that learning in the earliest years is more than just the ABCs and numbers. The early learning process is an “integration of social, physical, and emotional needs with cognitive needs,” said Sherry Cleary, executive director of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute. Yet many teachers are not trained to address this unique blend.
Each state has different licensing rules that guide what, when, and how early childhood teachers are trained. If a license only certifies teachers for a narrow range of early elementary grades—say, pre-kindergarten to third grade—the corresponding training programs will focus on early learning.
Pennsylvania and Ohio are among a handful of states that have changed their licensing requirements to better prepare teachers for the early grades. The licensing changes, guided by developmental science, are steps in the right direction, say advocates. The policy shifts put the needs of young learners ahead of bureaucratic practicality—which has caused some hitches along the way.
In 2007, Pennsylvania switched from N-3 (nursery to third grade) and K-6 (kindergarten to sixth grade) licenses to PK-4 (pre-kindergarten to fourth grade) and 4-8 (fourth to eighth grade) licenses. Previously, early childhood advocates there say, many teachers pursued the broad K-6 license, ending up teaching a kindergarten class without specialized knowledge of young children.
The PK-4 certificate was designed to build a stronger pre-K workforce, but also to create a greater understanding of the needs and experiences of early learners in elementary grades.
But certification systems in most states are lagging behind, reflecting politics, economics, and the needs of big school bureaucracies instead of putting children first, as Cleary says.
“If you’re going to say children need teachers with specialized training,” she said, “then the licensure should respond to that. At what point are we going to be brave enough and smart enough to hold ourselves to a really high standard and then deliver?”
For more see: https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/putting-children-first-teacher-licensing/