Minnesota Survey Describes Early Childhood Educators
by James Mahler (September / October 2004 — Volume 20, Number 5)
In the September/October 1995 issue of this column I reported on data from a survey of teachers in ELCA elementary schools. The results included responses from about 80 teachers in Lutheran schools attending a conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and 100 from a conference in Palm Desert, California.
In Spring 2004 I embarked on a long-planned sabbatical from California Lutheran University to expand on the earlier study to include administrators and teachers throughout the country and to include early childhood educators as well. Unfortunately, those plans were intercepted by significant surgery and a lengthy period of recovery. Therefore, this article again focuses only on a regional sample of educators. A more complete national picture of educators in ELCA schools awaits another report.
|By and large these teachers probably do not hold lifetime ECE career goals but are working in a way that is convenient to the ages of their children for a few years.|
The survey work was planned in connection with the Division for Higher Education and Schools (DHES) of the ELCA with support from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and cooperation from the Evangelical Lutheran Education Association (ELEA).
This set of data comes from the annual ELEA Region 4 Early Childhood Educator’s Conference held in St. Paul, Minnesota, in January 2004.The conference provided responses from 105 teachers in about 40 ELCA church sponsored preschools. Because of publishing constraints, only selected questions are reported at this time, and data from administrators are not included.
Interpretation of the data requires caution given the regional aspect of the data set, but the results and comments from respondents are helpful in understanding people who teach in ELCA early-childhood centers.
One issue of interpretation in the survey is that, unfortunately, it is impossible to determine from the questionnaire which teachers were employed full time and which part time. A substantial number of preschool teachers work part time, which must be considered when looking at employment, salary, and benefits.
The 105 Minnesota preschool teachers were monolithic in a few ways and diverse in others. Only one was male, and only two, who identified themselves as Hispanic, were not Caucasian. Ninety percent were married. One-third reported having no children at home 18 years of age or under, sixty percent reported having one, two, or three children, and five percent reported having four or five children at home.
Fifteen percent of the teachers claimed to be their household’s primary breadwinner. The median salary reported was in the $10,000–$14,999 range, but the most common response, made by about one-third of the teachers, was in the $5,000–$9,999 range. Only seven percent reported earning more than $30,000 annually. Two-thirds stated that they received no benefit package with their pay, and only fifteen percent had any medical coverage. Many indicated that they received medical benefits through their husband’s employment.
Only three respondents identified themselves as AIMs and two as pastors, so more than 90 percent were not rostered or recognized by the church body as theologically trained.
The teachers’ years of birth ranged from 1937 to 1981.Thirty-three percent were 50 years of age or older; 34 percent were in their 40s, 20 percent in their 30s, and 14 percent less than 30 years of age. The median age for the group was about 45.
Few teachers in this group entered early childhood education directly out of college. Many became involved after starting a family. When asked what year they began teaching at their center, 21 percent did not answer (perhaps it was too long ago for them to remember). Forty five percent indicated that they started in 2000 or later, suggesting a rather inexperienced staff, though they would bring some maturity as parents to their positions. Another 16 percent began in the five years before that, so three-fourths of the respondents had less than ten years’ experience at their school.
Written comments support the idea that many became involved as teachers after their children were enrolled in the program. Their work is seen as providing a second income to fit conveniently into a family schedule, not necessarily a lifetime career.
Another aspect of their qualifications as teachers is what experiences they had as students in Lutheran educational institutions prior to their employment. Thirty-six teachers reported attendance at a community college; 14 percent attended a Lutheran school. Seventy-seven percent reported obtaining an undergraduate degree, while 18 percent came from a Lutheran college. Twenty percent reported a graduate degree, and one percent from a Lutheran school, so a minority had previous Lutheran school experience as students.
When asked about membership in professional organizations, only one fourth reported such a commitment, with the great majority of those holding membership in the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Teachers were asked what teaching credentials they held for their position. Consistent with the impression that many teachers assumed their roles as a second career or in a post-childbearing time, more than 40 percent did not answer the question or reported working without credentials. Only about 30 percent reported holding appropriate credentials for Minnesota early-childhood education. Sixteen percent reported holding elementary or secondary teaching credentials.
When asked about their church home, one-third of the teachers indicated that they worshiped at the church that sponsored their ECE program. One-fourth reported worshiping at another Lutheran church, and nearly 40 percent of all the teachers said that they worshiped at another Christian church. Thirteen were Catholic, six Methodist, and the remainder represented a broad spectrum of Christian denominations.
In an attempt to gain input regarding the recruitment of future teachers into the church’s early-childhood programs, opinions were sought about factors they considered important when accepting their current position. Eleven factors were presented, each rated on a four-point scale from not important (1) to very important (4).The results are as follows.
|Sense of calling
|Opportunity to witness
|Opportunity for service
|Supportive work environment
|Fit with family schedule
|Help with college tuition
|Help with child’s tuition
|Opportunity to teach with no credential
Personal factors conducive to a working mother led the list: “supportive work environment” and “fit within a family schedule” topped the list of important factors. Benefit programs and tuition support were scored as least important. By and large these teachers probably do not hold lifetime ECE career goals but are working in a way that is convenient to the ages of their children for a few years.
This suggests that planning college-preparatory programs may not be as effective in strengthening ECE instruction as would offering effective in-service programs to people during their time in the profession.
Written responses to an open ended question asking why they chose to teach where they are employed is consistent with the above table. The comments offer clues as to how to staff ECE centers. A content analysis found about two-thirds of the respondents commenting on personal issues of geographic location, fit within family schedules, and care for their own children as key factors in their employment. About half of the respondents mentioned that working in a Christian setting, witnessing to their faith, and experiencing a sense of calling were important. Approximately one-third commented on strong leadership, positive program reputation, and a supportive teaching environment as significant factors in their employment.
Fifteen percent reported that being invited into the position or being connected to someone who knew someone was a factor in their employment, and less than 10 percent reported salary or benefits as a key factor in their employment.
Respondents also were asked to identify factors that they thought influenced the quality of Lutheran education. On the same four-point scale they indicated the following opinions:
|Lutheran college preparation programs
|In-service programs for teachers
|Clear evangelism purposes for school
|Strong ties between church and school
|Unique credentials for teachers in Lutheran schools
|Accreditation for local schools
|Pastors actively supporting the school
Seeking the support of local pastors received the highest average score of any item on the whole questionnaire. Pastors can do much to strengthen the early-childhood ministry in their congregations by their interest, participation, and support.
Caring parents comprise much of the teaching force in the surveyed programs. Preschool directors and boards may want to consider the dynamics reported in this brief summary of Minnesota teachers in staffing their centers and strengthening their programs. National leaders may want to consider the data as they review participation in educational programs.
It is anticipated that a more detailed report will be available through the DHES in the months ahead.
James Mahler, an associate in ministry, recently retired as a member of the faculty at the School of Education at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California.