AFT president Randi Weingarten stopped by with a clear message for delegates attending the convention's first-ever breakfast meeting for early educators: America needs to walk the walk and talk the talk on early childhood education.
"I want you to hold us accountable," Weingarten told the group. "Every time we say early childhood education is important, you say, 'This is what I need from you.' There are lots and lots of ideas on what to do about early learning, many revolving around quality versus quantity in programs. But you are in this every day. You can help us figure out how to have both—quality as well as quantity."
What's more, the people who decide on funding at the federal, state and local levels have to be held accountable for their lip service, Weingarten said. Virtually everyone supports early learning for all, yet whenever there's discretionary funding, officials will put it into third grade because those classrooms cost less than preschool classrooms, which at a minimum need tiny furnishings and a sink.
And then there's the issue of pay. "If we say early childhood education is important, we have to pay as though it's important," she said. "People should get paid for doing the most important work we can do for kids."
The breakfast also featured a talk by Teri Hogg, an early educator and researcher at the University of Michigan and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Hogg spoke frankly about the resentment early educators sometimes feel when children come to them unprepared. They may be indignant at parents who haven't taken their children to the library and taught them proper respect for books, or at fellow educators for not starting the Individualized Education Program process when it's obviously needed.
Her advice: If you work with infants and toddlers, ask preschool teachers what they're expecting. If you work with kindergartners, speak with primary-level educators about making sure children start school ready to learn. [Annette Licitra/photo by Russ Curtis]