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Show Me the "No Excuses" Early Childhood Education Student!

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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preschool teacher

“I just have to pass this course! I’m sending you some assignments I forgot to do at the beginning of the semester and I hope you’ll accept them This has been a horrible semester, with my aunt passing away and my Internet not working. And then, I got the flu at midterm and …”


These emails (and even personal visits!) are coming in a steady trickle. My students are suddenly realizing their lack of attention, effort, or organization has now resulted in a crisis situation. For the majority of these desperate cases, I had never been clued in on the life events at the time they occurred, when I might have been able to help. No. Not until now, four days before grades are submitted.

Of course, when at all possible, I try to be accommodating and offer some assignment due date flexibility when a student truly needs it. But those requests will come at an appropriate time and will have a legitimate reason. Those students will honor the extension and appreciate the support.

This year, as I was respectfully declining the offers to “do whatever it takes to pass,” I stopped, sat back, and reflected on the connection between student responsibility and the Early Childhood profession… and how we were preparing students.

Our profession is not one that employs clerks or factory assemblers or automotive technicians. Uh, no. This profession employs early educators who will be responsible for the education and care of our precious, youngest, and most vulnerable children.

infant eating

Admittedly, many of the above mentioned jobs may pay more. So, it is usually pure devotion and dedication that drives most of us to do this important work. The rest drop into Early Childhood for a variety of other unrelated reasons. These can include not being successful in another field, having kids or even just knowing some kids. Most figure it can’t possibly be that hard… just watching some children all day- right?

If they get a job before finding out the truth, the outcome is predictable. They realize it’s not what they bargained for and quit. I’ve heard directors tell me some of them start their first day at 8AM and leave at lunch time.

out the door

We might look at this as natural selection and good riddance. But, it is not that simple. People like this contribute to a scourge on Early Childhood programs called “high turnover.” High turnover is highly stressful to young children, especially infants and toddlers, who are trying to form attachments with their caregivers.

Students coming into our Early Childhood program at the College are a mixed bag. Some are seasoned providers who are motivated to improve their practice and succeed. Some have a passion and are eager to learn. The rest aren’t so sure, but with encouragement can be nudged into becoming really good teachers. I can see the potential and work to give it life. Sure, they may struggle, but they’ll come out in the end barely recognizable from who they were at the beginning. It isn’t until then, however, that they thank us for believing in them and pushing them to do their personal best. We see it every year when they sit before the Graduation Panel, talking with us about their experiences and learning. It is awesome.

But, getting them there takes some tough love. We see irresponsibility, entitlement, and lack of motivation. None of these character flaws align with professionalism and all of them will create roadblocks to their success.

When I see a student who is satisfied with doing the minimum- just enough to slide through and pass, I am concerned about what kind of teacher he or she will be. Working with young children takes all we’ve got, every day, for every child.

If a student is not successful in her student teaching, I am again concerned. This is telling me the student has nearly reached the end of her coursework and is having difficulty applying to practice what she has learned. So, maybe she won’t graduate if she fails this course. Well then, maybe she won’t. Perhaps taking some time to reflect on what happened and what could be done better will make her student teaching productive, rewarding, and successful the second time around.

Moving students quickly through a program to completion and graduation may be the goal of college administrators, but is this really a goal we want? Is moving underprepared, barely passing students into the Early Childhood workforce a good idea?

I’m for encouraging and supporting their success, but holding them accountable and to high standards they can be proud of. Then, when hired into Early Childhood programs, these students will have a much better chance of being committed to the profession, to their employers, and to the children and families that will be depending on them.

Call me a hard-liner all you want. Those kinds of outcomes warm my heart.


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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

  • Guest
    corinne Wednesday, 14 December 2016

    A teacher after my own heart! wholeheartedly agree that students need to bring everything they have to learning to be an ECE. We don't need anymore lazy, under-engaged, or poorly educated 'warm bodies' in our ECE classrooms. As a director of programs, i need enthusiastic, engaged educators who truly see the value in their work, and who i can count on to to their best every day, not just when they see that i am watching....

  • Debra Pierce | @easycda
    Debra Pierce | @easycda Wednesday, 14 December 2016

    Thanks for the affirmation, Corinne. I'm sure what we think is going to resonate with many... even outside ECE.

  • Guest
    Roseann Murphy Monday, 23 January 2017

    Oh my goodness, I am applauding as I read this. This is such an amazing article. So filled with reality and with dignity for the profession. After many many years in the profession I am so uplifted by your words. As Corinne mentioned...the students and teachers have to come "with all they have" tenacity and respect and the ability to continue learning. Most of all with the patience kindness and understanding about development vs curriculum!

  • Debra Pierce | @easycda
    Debra Pierce | @easycda Monday, 23 January 2017

    Thanks, Roseann. Many of us in higher ed are just tired of it and making the buck stop here. I had a student a couple of semesters ago accuse me of not caring for students... because I held her to an assignment deadline. I told her I held her to a deadline because I cared about students.

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Guest Saturday, 23 February 2019