I entered the field of Early Education some 30 odd years ago as a summer job while in high school, and then again in college to help support myself. As someone who did not see it as a career, I was not worried about the pay or the quality or really even the respect- it was a job that paid my bills which were meager. However, somewhere along the line it became my career and then everything changed. I don't remember exactly when it was that I decided this was my Profession, but I did, and then I cared about the pay, the quality, and the respect. I cared because I knew that I would never be able to support a family without the help of a spouse, I knew that the children in my care received quality but I worried that other children did not and what that would cost us all down the line, and I resented the lack of respect for doing something that I viewed as the most important job in the world. And while that point may be arguable, because after all, all jobs are important, Early Learning professionals (and I would add parents of young children) play a vital role in ensuring the future of our cultures, nation, and world. And without someone performing that role, it would all go. . . well, let's just say downhill.
However, many Early Learning professionals did not choose this field, but rather it was something that they dropped into and when you do not see something as a choice or a career, you are less likely to fight for it. The workers in the factories of the past saw their jobs as something that should support their families, but many Early Learning professionals do not. But this does not make what Early Learning professionals do any less important, and so the job for advocating for a better paid, higher quality, and better respected field falls on those who see Early Learning as their career and a profession. And as more Early Learning professionals advocate for themselves and the field, others in the field will see themselves as professionals and slowly (so slow it may not feel like we are moving at all, but we are) more and more of those who work with young children will see themselves as professionals. While this may seem like a burden for those who are willing to speak up (that's advocating in a nutshell), there are very simple things that anyone can do to make one an advocate and will have a tremendous impact on Early Care and Education.
Nancy Amidel in her article "Policy Advocacy: The Ten Minute Version" gives some easy tips for advocating. She gives 3 steps to being an advocate. The first of which is to be informed so that you can present information in a coherent, understandable manner to those who may not know the facts about Early Education. The second step is to be involved so that you are taking an active role in providing solutions to the problems that have been identified. The final step is to be an advocate which means speaking up, in big or little ways, for the issues that you find important. As she says in her article this is often the most difficult for people, and I think, especially for Early Learning professionals who may not have been given the message that their voice matters. But, of course, it does since those in field who work with children everyday know the problems first hand. A common phrase in most (probably all) Early Learning classrooms is "use your words." It's time to start to model this for the young children we teach by speaking up for practices, such as adequate funding, that support the quality we know young children need and deserve to thrive.