Mary Beltran spent months looking for a certified preschool teacher for her Mary Crane Center in North Center. Once she found one with that precious certificate, called Type 04, she held on tight.
“I nurture her. I care for her. I make sure she has everything,” says Beltran. “She’s a gem, and I don’t want to lose her. Type 04s are so hard to find. I want to make sure she stays.”
Thanks to some revenue-sharing by the Chicago Public Schools, community-based preschools have the buying power to add certified teachers to their staffs. They are shopping in a tight market, however.
“There is a huge shortage of early childhood education professionals, period,” says Portia Kennel, a vice president at the Ounce of Prevention Fund. “We are suffering a drain in the field. People go into other fields.”
Community-based centers are at a competitive disadvantage, she adds. Teachers in the Chicago Public Schools work fewer hours and have summers off while those employed by private child care programs typically work all day, year round. Kennel says certified teachers also worry about their professional environment.
“Many of them are geared to go to a CPS school,” she explains. “They go to college, and this is what they prepare for. They worry about who their colleagues will be and if they will have the same prestige. Going into a community-based program is a relatively new and unknown option for them.”
Christine Ryan, manager of CPS’ community partnership program, says she has seen community-based centers compete with each other. “We’ve witnessed a lot of movement between agencies,” she says. “They are saying things like, ‘We’ll change your hours to reflect CPS’ hours or we’ll give you this kind of time off.'”
Sometimes it takes centers a while to land a Type 04 teacher. In those cases, they are allowed to make do with teachers who have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in early childhood education.
“We don’t grant waivers—a certified teacher is part of the state mandate,” says Ryan. “For the first few months, agencies have to show good faith that they are looking, and file a plan for how they plan to structure their program. Everyone finds someone. We haven’t had to pull anyone’s funding yet.”
Centers use their certified teachers in a variety of ways. Those with a good supply put one in every classroom. Others have them spend time in more than one classroom. Some have them work with teachers as well as students. And some have them work just with teachers, “our least favorite way,” says Ryan. “We want the Type 04s to work directly with children.”
Mary Beltran’s new teacher, Tarah Kandell, wears a couple of hats, including program coordinator and master teacher. In the morning, she works with children in the child care/state pre-k program. In the afternoon, she works with teachers in the child care/state pre-k/Head Start program. She also works with teachers in the center’s toddler program.
“The dual role they sometimes have to play is why it is so hard to get them and hold on to them,” says Beltran.
In the case of Kandell, a former CPS kindergarten teacher, she fled what she considered a worse situation, pressure from school administrators to teach in ways she considered inappropriate for her young charges.
“The way I was asked to teach was against what I know about child development,” she says. “There’s all this pressure around test scores, and my administrators were concerned about the 3rd-grade ISAT tests. I took a small pay cut to move here, but I am much happier here.”