Literacy is so central to learning that if the foundation isn't set early, gaps will open up later, AFT member and trainer Betty Robinson-Harris told a packed room at the TEACH mini-institute on early childhood education, which took place July 10-11.
Too often, though, it's up to early educators themselves to pursue professional development, which is frequently unavailable or irrelevant, said Robinson-Harris, a member of United Educators of San Francisco. "My job is to prepare children for the next step," she noted, adding that "if you don't have a strategic plan for the school system, everybody who walks through the door has their own process and their own plan."
That's why Robinson-Harris advocates engaging with the school district to improve professional development. She acknowledged some educators' fear that if they step forward, the district will squash them, but added that the school system can add structure to individual educators' knowledge, and that becoming organized through their union enables employees and school systems to work together on improving the conditions for learning. As a member of San Francisco's First 5 Commission, a blue-ribbon panel to bolster early learning, she also brings the perspective of an educator to a board dominated by doctors, businesspeople and others who don't know much about the classroom. "We need to be at the table. We need to be present," she said, describing funding cuts and other threats to education. "I bring that loud voice."
Participants at the packed session jumped in to back her up. Diane Terrell of the Washington (D.C.) Teachers Union lamented that kindergarten is no longer considered "early childhood" in some quarters, and Linda Murray from the Washington Educators in Early Learning of Yakima, Wash., pointed out that child advocates are part of a larger fight in which educators need to help defeat politicians who don't consider children a priority.
When parents ask her to stop going to meetings and stay in the classroom, Robinson-Harris explains to them the threats to education that must be overcome, and as an educator whose main love is right there in the classroom, she has to motivate herself to stand up against those threats, too: "There is other work that needs to be done," she says. "You have to look at yourself and say, 'What can I do?' It will take all of us to turn this around." [Annette Licitra/photo by Marvin Jones]
July 12, 2011