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Words Matter


When I first joined the early childhood education profession in 2009, my official title was “Child Care Worker.” This title was one step below assistant, and meant I was in a support role to the other staff and should never be solely responsible for the safety or supervision of children. In the years that followed, my growing experience and ongoing college-level coursework in child development meant I was qualified to be promoted to the role of Assistant Teacher, and later to Lead Teacher.

In the early years of my career I struggled whenever I was asked what I did for a living. Early childhood education is vital for healthy child development, but to those outside the profession, the impact of the time between drop-off and pick-up can feel largely unknown. How can one possibly boil down all that we do into a few words that accurately convey the importance of our work?

As a field, we’ve struggled since the inception of the profession to choose one accurate label that covers all of our roles. We call ourselves providers, workers, teachers, assistants, practitioners, and educators. We work in daycares, in-homes, family child care, child care centers, and pre-k.

When there is this much confusion and inconsistency from those of us within the field, it is no wonder that there is confusion and lack of recognition from those outside of the field. A taskforce championed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) gathered feedback and input from the field as part of its first Decision Cycle of the Power to the Profession initiative. The goal was to identify a single term to represent the work that we do, and a single term that represents those who do this important work.

So, who are we?

Early childhood educators (ECEs) are professionals who work with young children (generally ages 0-8) and their families in a variety of settings. ECEs are critical to the health and success of a community, instilling vital skills and knowledge to support the development and growth of young children. They offer a safe, enriching environment for children to thrive while parents and caregivers work. ECEs meet and often exceed the requirements for their roles, with many holding degrees in early childhood and participating in continuing education.

And, what do we call the work?

ECEs work within the Early Childhood Education profession. Early childhood education happens in a variety of settings – in homes at family child care programs; public, private, and non-profit child care centers; Head Start programs; pre-kindergartens; and public schools.

I am so lucky to be able to do the work I do, and to have experience in the field that reminds me of the crucial nature of the work. Early childhood educators deserve recognition for the incredible work that they do with children, and choosing our words wisely is a solid place to start. Now, whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, I am proud to say that I support early childhood educators.