As a professor and academic advisor, I often meet with early childhood teachers to learn about their background and professional goals and tailor their learning plans accordingly. What I have learned throughout my career as an educator is that choosing your education path wisely can make all the difference. But that path looks different for everyone, and different paths address different knowledge and career needs.
For example, while a higher education degree should be a long-term goal for most educators, it is not always the best starting point. It is my view that someone new to the field should not have to wait three semesters to learn about health and safety or child development. These are skills that matter on the first day of teaching and all teachers should have a foundational understanding of early childhood when they work with children.
State priorities have shifted considerably over the past twenty years, with more spending devoted to college credits and degree obtainment across most states. For many teachers, this shift is hugely beneficial, enabling members of the ECE community to advance professionally without absorbing huge costs in a field that does not pay well in the first place.
While I applaud the advocates and political leaders who have worked tirelessly to provide funding for these college programs, I believe that this orientation should be tempered with caution in the name of practicality. The reality that seems to get overlooked is that college is not necessarily the right choice for every teacher, and even if it IS the right choice, it is not always the best place to start.
Consider, for example, that it can take six or more years for a full-time teacher to earn an associates degree in early childhood. In the mean time, there may be significant attendance gaps – sometimes even years – in which a teacher does not advance. In the intervening period, the teacher’s level on the state’s registry may reflect very little in the way of qualifications.
I also challenge the assumption that college is the best educational format for everyone. During my career as a director, I knew MANY teachers who performed exceptional work with children, but who have had difficulty completing college courses for various reasons. Should the quality of these teachers’ work be overlooked and undermined by our existing college orientation, or can we, as a field, consider, that alternative pathways, such as the CDA, provide an acceptable level of skills validation?
Another consideration is that some teachers never complete their degrees or, as is becoming increasingly common, they leave the classroom entirely once they do obtain one. This adds additional complexity to the important issue of investment in professional development, as those who invest in training options must consider the long-term fiscal benefits of degree v college investment.
Thankfully, I believe the field is beginning to return to a more moderate perspective on professional development. CDA credentials are now accepted for college credits, and funding for them continues to grow. While I agree that college coursework contributes to better outcomes for children, I believe that this is not the only path that should be available, and that entrance into a degree program is not always a logical starting point for entry level teachers.
As you move forward, please take time to reflect on what path is best for you. If you believe that you are ready for a college commitment, we encourage you to begin as soon as possible! If it’s the CDA, we hope to see you in our programs, where we believe the CDA is the best place to start!