How do we prepare teachers to educate young children for their future, a future with problems we cannot even envision today?
Twenty-first century goals call for students who will be critical thinkers, creative, flexible, productive, and accomplished in communication, collaboration and leadership. And so too must the teachers of all students, even teachers of our youngest students age 3 and 4.
How do we prepare teachers of young children who are ready to welcome children of every race, language background, family situation, and economic resources into a classroom and deliver on the promise of early childhood education — the chance to grow tall in their talents and interests? We know that whether children get off to a strong start makes a difference. Children who fall in love with what can happen on a good day in school, make friends, find challenge in learning are the children poised to stay in school as a pathway to their future. Beginnings matter.
A child’s first days and years in school affect short and long term outcomes, and the preparation of teachers who mediate and influence children’s school outcomes matters also.
Well-prepared teachers are ready for children from the moment they enter the classroom anticipating their eager inquisitive creative minds. Their first responsibility is to be well trained in listening and speaking to children whose minds are full of wonderings as well as fears about this place called school away from the safety of parents and family.
Well-trained and supported teachers learn to make connections between the thoughts of young children and that of the great musicians, writers, mathematicians, artists, scientists and athletes of the children’s culture and those of others from around the world and throughout history.
Well-prepared teachers of young children understand the nature of development in the early years. Their development is verbal, physical, intellectual, social, and highly emotional: a symphony of movement and interaction with others.
Beginning to teach requires transforming a love for students and schools into a set of well-honed skills in planning for and orchestrating the school day in a rhythm of activities that allow children to explore, create, listen and speak. All students grow tall under the guidance of such a teacher.
Ambassadors are high-ranking representatives hired for a diplomatic mission that requires expertise of local circumstances as well as global.
For a teacher’s efforts to succeed requires a well-rounded education that prepares them to recognize and cultivate the foundations of mathematics, literature, the sciences, and the visual and performing arts in daily class activities over time. It also requires awareness of the history of schools and services supporting families in our society in order to understand the place of high expectations, and what it takes as a community, and a democratic nation, to guarantee equality of educational opportunity.
Well-prepared teachers are educational ambassadors to family and caregivers building connections between home and school: welcoming and receiving children with respect for the role parent and teacher serve in shepherding children forward as they grow up. Teachers broker relationships between school and family that can make or break bonds of trust that can sustain a child through hard times – at home and in school.
Teachers are society’s emissaries with our children’s future. The needs of the 21st century are knocking on school doors daily calling for the talents and curiosity of every single child.
We need to meet the challenge of nurturing children’s imagination, curiosity, and desire for new friends with teachers who are aware of the responsibility and skills necessary to work with colleagues to be capable stewards of our children’s talents. Professionals in all walks of life need to regard teachers and their preparation with the seriousness and place of respect that we accord those who represent our highest ideals and goals for the future.
We need to prepare and support teachers before and during their professional life as educators, and entice them to stay in the profession for a long time.
Gillian Dowley McNamee is the director of teacher education at the Erikson Institute.