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Training the Early Educators We Need: Q & A With Elanna Yalow

In November, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) released a report calling for more emphasis on clinical pre-service experience for the nation's K-12 teachers, such as is provided in urban teacher residency programs, like Boston's.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) followed suit, releasing a statement touting its revised standards for early childhood teacher preparation. The revised standards call for field practice in at least two of three age ranges—zero-to-3, 3-to-5, and 5-to-8—and in at least two of three settings (school-sponsored pre-K, head start and child care).

What does training look like now for early educators, and how do administrators in the early ed world make human capital decisions? For an on-the-ground perspective, Early Years turned to Elanna Yalow, executive vice president of Knowledge Universe, a for-profit education company that operates more than 2,000 early-learning programs (both preschool and day care) in 39 states. Here's an edited version of our conversation.

Q. What are the biggest challenges we face in training early educators?

A. There's more consistency in expectations in K-12. The range of expectations for early childhood educators is even wider—from somebody with a high school diploma to somebody with a bachelor's degree.

Q. What's your take on the call to increase clinical experience for pre-service early educators?

A. Practical experience is absolutely critical [but] I would be concerned about trading off time to learn about developmental stages. In K-12, textbooks help teachers deliver content, but if you look at the broad early-childhood industry that's not the case. Teachers are completely developing their own lesson plans. [Many] are happy to pull stuff from a variety of sources. If they don't have the background in appropriate expectations for each age level, they don't have the framework or context to plan well.

Q. What do you look for when hiring early educators?

A. At Knowledge Universe, when we think about high-quality teachers we put a tremendous focus on both education and experience. Teachers go through at least two rounds of interviews, to see how they think, and a classroom observation or other supervised classroom experience, to see how they interact with children. Whatever they join us with, that's only the beginning. They need to have consistent, ongoing training.

Q. How do you provide that training?

A. Once they are brought on, we align them with a partner teacher who is responsible for helping them get acclimated to the center. We use classroom observations, consistent feedback and provide tools and resources. [All KU early learning centers provide teachers with two professional development days per year.]

Q. What other steps need to be taken to improve the quality of human capital in the early childhood field?

A. The industry doesn't really have a gold standard or measure to say, "This is what you should look for in a teacher." It is probably the single biggest challenge early childhood faces. We have submitted a proposal to IES (Institute for Education Sciences) to study better screening tools.

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