Each personal classroom experience brings a sense of purpose to the teacher. A teacher’s passion for education can be reignited by precious moments; lending a listening ear to students, receiving encouraging words from a colleague, and helping a student develop a better understanding about a personal problem or lesson. Besides these moments, how can teachers keep their passion alive?
Professional development is one answer. When it comes to improving the school environment, professional development is often overlooked, due to scarce funding. Often, teachers transition from school year to school year without sufficient teaching reflection and do not have the opportunities to develop their skill set and crucial leadership skills. This is a common situation, specifically, in early childhood education. In 2018, three nonprofit organizations, an early childhood coalition, and one foundation made a special opportunity possible for 16 early childhood educators.
For the first time ever, through the collaborative work in early childhood education in our county, the Early Childhood Educator Scholarship opportunity was created by La Clinica de Familia, Ngage New Mexico, the SUCCESS Partnership, the Doña Ana County Early Childhood Education Coalition, and United Way of Southwest New Mexico, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Each organization recognizes a need for transformation in education.
Last year, 16 Doña Ana County early childhood educators were selected to be scholarship recipients and attend one of two national conferences, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and Washington, D.C. Eight educators attended the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) Conference from September 24-26 and eight educators attended the National Association for the Education of Young Children from November 14-17.
The scholarship opportunity was truly special because it involved a unique blend of educators from home visiting programs, public schools, and privately owned childcare centers who work daily with children, ages 0-8. The scholarship recipients were chosen from different areas within Doña Ana County — Hatch, Las Cruces, and multiple communities in the south county.
There are truly remarkable stories attached to each individual and their experiences educating children in southern New Mexico. One scholarship recipient has been a dedicated volunteer in the Gadsden community for 14 years. Another owns and operates her own private childcare and one educator, Judi Ferguson, who has been in the field of early childhood for 36 years, said, “One of the most interesting things I learned was, if there are 100 or more books in a child’s home, they are more likely to graduate from high school.” As an administrator at Little Playmates child care center, she said, “We have to look at the families to see what they need.”
Our investment in developing teachers is crucial during a time when there are teacher shortages and nationally televised teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, just to name a few. Consideration to allocating more funds to rejuvenate a teacher’s sense of purpose, leadership skills and competence in the classroom, through professional development scholarships, and opportunity is deeply meaningful for our educators and students. Especially, by way of national conferences, teachers can connect with other teachers, share innovative ideas and educational resources and bring the information back to their hometown.
This year is an unprecedented year to actively begin to revitalize education with a larger state budget. New Mexico elected officials have an optimal opportunity to include the sufficient professional development needed to support the field of education and encourage new recruits to the classrooms. Teachers are dedicated to being life-long learners, and have a thirst for knowledge. Investing in teachers is one of the best moves New Mexico can make, for our entire education system.
Lynda Garcia is a former elementary school librarian, who has a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. She is currently the communications coordinator for the prenatal to career, SUCCESS Partnership, education initiative.