A Letter to Early Education Workforce Advocates during Teacher Appreciation Week

Dear Early Education Workforce Advocates,

More than a year has gone by since our country started to feel and acknowledge the impact of COVID-19. I have heard and used the word “unprecedented” more times than I can remember or count. So much so that the word’s usage influenced my thoughts about crafting a salient, inspirationally charged message to acknowledge Teacher Appreciation Week.

As I began to compose my thoughts, I decided to use this opportunity to disrupt the common narrative by pointing out that not much of what has been experienced and reported throughout the pandemic has been completely unprecedented for early care educators. 

This period of unpredictability and instability has not been viewed altogether as unchartered territory for the vast members of the early care and education workforce. Instead, COVID-19 has exposed a variety of truths about the fragility of our early education workforce, all of which predated the arrival of the pandemic. So here are a few well-known truths:

Like always, early educators continue to put children first, even risking their own health and that of their own family to do so.

Like always, early educators continue to persevere through another crisis despite not having a safety net of supports and benefits like paid leave or employer-paid health insurance. 

Like always, early educators continue to serve as an essential lifeline for families in their communities by honoring their commitment to programs and being a source of stability for children, even when some weeks it was questionable whether they would receive pay for doing so. 

Like always, early educators continue to overcome various obstacles, some of them COVID-19 related, to advance their education, knowing that they would not reap perpetual financial rewards for doing so. 

Although COVID-19 has marked a time of unprecedented change for the world, much of what was witnessed through the eyes of early educators felt like “business as usual.” 

I expect that during Teacher Appreciation Week, the term “unsung hero” will be used frequently among workforce advocates as we look for ways to acknowledge and characterize the resilience and dedication of early educators. Hopefully, advocates for young children and early educators will go beyond merely expressing or echoing “feel-good sentiments” and take the action-oriented steps that lead to the cementing of lasting change and impact. Collectively, we all must combine messaging with action so that when the next crisis rolls around, early educators will be highly revered and regarded as being essential to the communities in which they live and work. 

Edith's grandson being held
Edith’s grandson

Let us not be remiss. As we stage celebrations and employ a variety of social media platforms to showcase observance of Teacher Appreciation Week, we as advocates should concomitantly take necessary measures to provide early educators with a gift that keeps on giving, access to higher education coupled with appropriate compensation!

To early educators, everywhere, CHEERS and THANK YOU for providing an unwavering presence in the lives of our young children!

Edith Locke
Division Vice President, CCSA
Director, T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood, N.C.