Children at their earliest stages of development rely completely on the adults who care for them to shape their views of themselves and the world.  This role used to be filled solely by parents, or perhaps by nannies or governesses of the wealthy elite.  With the advent of two worker households, most children growing up in Western societies spend their days being cared for by day cares and preschool teachers.

 

The concept of preschool is a relatively new one.  Prior to the 1960’s, most students entered directly into first grade.  With every passing generation, it seems that our society demands that children be educated at younger and younger ages in order to compete for the limited spots in the best schools, so as to be able to get into the best colleges and earn the most income at the best companies.

 

With advances in child development and psychology, it is now generally accepted that the earlier children begin to learn, the better they perform later on.  This is the driving philosophy behind the Head Start program and President Obama’s “Preschool for All” initiative, especially in order to assist children from low-income families to succeed in school.

 

In the United States, kindergarten is usually integrated into the rest of the primary and second grades.  While kindergarten was once viewed as separate from elementary school, it is now considered to be the first year of formal education.  In most public and private schools, children begin attending kindergarten at age 5 or 6. In some states where the age of required schooling begins at age 5, kindergarten is compulsory.  Elsewhere, children may not attend kindergarten, simply because compulsory education in some states begins at age 6, 7, or even 8 years of age. Nearly all fifty states require their school districts to offer kindergarten.

 

About half of the states require pre-K teachers to have a Bachelor’s degree.  Some of those states additionally require their pre-K teachers to be certified.  Other states require only a CDA (Child Development Associate) credential, which is  nationally recognized.  Other states require a Child Care Professional (CCP) designation.

 

Unfortunately, there are not enough teachers in the United States, particularly in rural and low income urban areas. Some countries seem to be experiencing a particular shortage of early childhood teachers.  In Australia, recent changes to their daycare requirements are causing Australian daycare operators to hire staff from other countries such as UK and the Phillippines.  New national requirements for Australian daycares and preschools, as of January 2014, are that half of all staff must have (or be working towards) a diploma level early childhood qualification.  Other staff will all be required to have (or be working towards) a Certificate III level early childhood education and care qualification.  For some veteran day care workers, the price of returning to school for training in what they’ve been successfully doing for years is too steep, and they are resigning their positions.

 

In  the United States, special education teachers are in particularly short supply, including for the younger grades.  Since 1975 and the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now called the Individuals With Disabilities Act of 1990, schools are required to provide equal educational opportunities for all children, regardless of (dis)ability.  Teachers are therefore needed who are able to provide appropriate education for children who are blind, deaf, autistic, emotionally disturbed, physically disabled, or mentally retarded.

 

But special education programs for the disabled are very expensive, and although required by the federal government, the majority of responsibility for paying for special education falls on the backs of state and local taxpayers.  Not all states are willing to pay for these programs, however, and so many school districts suffer from lack of funding and have a shortage of special education and early childcare teachers.

 

States are combating these shortages with student loan forgiveness programs, but they may also need to consider adopting a teacher residency framework, similar to those used for training medical residents, in order to encourage future teachers to teach in high-need areas which are experiencing some of the greatest shortages.