Jen Olson: Giving voice to our educator identity

JEN OLSON, WHO teaches youngsters at Wren’s Nest Forest Preschool, is proud to call herself an Early Childhood Educator, and she urges others in her line of work to take pride and professionalism in their jobs.

Chances are you or someone you know have a connection to a young child. Perhaps you’re a parent or grandparent, or a colleague, friend or neighbor of someone with a young child. It’s also likely that you’ve heard or asked, “What are you doing for childcare?” Over the years the verbiage has changed from daycare to childcare; with many people and news outlets still using “daycare” in conversations and reporting.

I’m going to let you in on a … not so little secret. Those terms are out of date. Whether you call it school, preschool or by its official name, early childhood education” — it’s education and we’re early childhood educators. 

We have always recognized that education is at the heart of our work. In the company of children, we call ourselves teachers and often refer to our programs as school. Many educators who’ve previously referred to themselves as daycare providers have had the courage to rebrand their programs with new names and invited families to join them in adopting more respectful language. We see ourselves for who and what we are: trained educators who carefully design developmentally appropriate, play-based learning opportunities for young children, and who continue our professional development and learning throughout our careers. That’s why we call ourselves early childhood educators.

Within our programs, we post signs and write newsletters to invite families to join us; “Instead of ‘daycare’, we call it ‘school.’” In conversations with community members we kindly offer, “You know, we’ve actually chosen to call ourselves early childhood educators.” 

I don’t write “we” lightly. 

I am a member of a task force of early childhood education professionals from all over the state, representing programs based in public schools, public and private centers, and family homes. In 2020, our task force began leading our fellow Vermont early childhood educators in learning about the nationally recommended roles and responsibilities of being an early childhood educator within an early childhood education profession.

While this work continues at a national level with key leadership from The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Vermont is a leader among several individual states already working to gain consensus from their workforce regarding alignment with the national recommendations for establishing an early childhood education profession. 

In Vermont, our task force has been working since 2019 to build a shared knowledge base and gain consensus among our statewide workforce. This year, the task force’s work continues with workforce engagement and outreach to build our professional identity. This includes envisioning the systems design and policy work needed to create a profession that works for all children, families, and early childhood educators. 

In addition, early childhood education programs across Vermont are updating their websites, family handbooks, job titles and social media to reflect the professional language that the Vermont workforce has identified. We’re setting the stage for families and community members to know who we are and what we do from their initial interactions with us, be it online or face to face. 

Our audacious vision is a state and nation where each and every child, beginning at birth, has the opportunity to benefit from high-quality, affordable early childhood education, delivered by a diverse, effective, well-prepared, and well-compensated workforce.

Every day we partner with children and families. Today is no different. We’re asking you to join us, to call us by our professional name, early childhood educators, and help us elevate our work and our audacious vision. 

Jen Olson is an Early Childhood Educator at Wren’s Nest Forest Preschool.

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