Opinion: It’s Time to Show Toxic Teachers the Door

Having worked in the field of early childhood my entire career, I tend to be a glass half full, optimistic, person. Most of us employed in this line of work are hopeful and positive, we believe in the power of relationships and the life-changing work that we do.

However, it is time to face a concern that is too often ignored: There are some toxic early childhood teachers working in classrooms, interacting with our youngest learners, every single day. The presence of these teachers should not come as a shock to anyone in the field.

In many careers it would never be acceptable to continue to employ those who are negative and who are not fulfilling their duties, but because there is a workforce shortage in the early childhood field, these toxic teachers keep their jobs. It is time to face reality and make some changes.

Although I have had the pleasure of working with excellent early childhood teachers who care deeply about children and believe that the majority of educators go above and beyond daily, the number of toxic teachers employed in early childhood classrooms continues to be too high, particularly in childcare settings.

Due to a limited early childhood workforce, low pay and the demands to meet classroom ratios, unqualified teachers are hired to work with infants, toddlers and preschoolers, and are often not held accountable. These teachers negatively affect all areas of child development and often times there are significant safety concerns for the young children in their care.

We fight for children to have access to early childhood education. We are aware that high-quality teachers make a difference in the classroom. We know that the interactions and experiences of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers shape who they become. So why are we continuing to allow toxic teachers to work with our youngest and most vulnerable population?

Even administrators of the best childcare centers, those rated as high-quality on the state’s rating system, continue to employ poor-performing teachers and hide their toxicity, including harsh tones and physical behaviors, to maintain a positive image, keep federal funding or remain open. Our children and their families who place their trust in teachers deserve better. What can be done to fix this and ensure a high-quality early childhood workforce?

First of all, administrators need to be extremely selective when hiring new teachers. I realize this can be a challenge due to a small pool of candidates and an urgent need to fill positions. However, administrators must focus on what is best for their organization and raise their standards. When interviewing, they need to take into account the education and background experience of the candidate, as well as look for a genuine interest in working with young children and families.

Even one toxic early childhood teacher can significantly affect the morale of the organization. Hiring a teacher who is not the right fit just to fill a job position is not prioritizing the well-being of children and will ultimately take more time and energy down the road.

Implementing an effective onboarding program and informally observing teachers to assess their strengths and areas of need is crucial to the success of the program. Administrators must check in with teachers frequently regarding their professional goals and continuing education, as well as ask what can be done to help them be successful in the classroom. These interactions are powerful and an essential first step to recognizing who the toxic teachers are and coaching them to improve.

Teachers who have received adequate training and continuing support and continue to display the characteristics of a toxic teacher need to be held accountable and if there are no signs of progress, terminated. When a teacher creates a negative classroom environment, the children are the ones who suffer.

When administrators do not hold toxic teachers accountable and allow their behaviors to continue, it sends a message to the staff and families that they do not value high-quality early childhood education.

In addition to the administration, early childhood teachers who have concerns about toxic teachers and their interactions with young children need to speak up. Those who are not fulfilling the duties of this extremely important job need to be reminded of the expectations.

Some teachers may feel comfortable speaking directly to their colleagues and providing feedback, and others may need to get the administrator involved. Either way, consistent negative behaviors towards young children and a lack of accountability should never be ignored. We have looked the other way for entirely too long.

Parents and caregivers also have a responsibility to hold toxic teachers accountable. Parents who walk away from their child’s classroom feeling concerned about the interactions that are taking place need to trust their intuition. They should not hesitate to share their concerns with the administrator and expect to be taken seriously. Very young children to do not have a voice to defend themselves, so it is crucial that parents advocate if they do not believe their child is receiving high-quality care.

The voices of early childhood advocates are finally being heard and new policies and procedures are being implemented to professionalize the field. Leaders in early childhood are requiring higher qualifications and standards, prioritizing professional development,  and are pushing for an increase in salaries to recruit high-quality teachers. We are moving forward.

Teachers who are not serious about the important role that they play should no longer have a place in any early childhood setting. We no longer have room for toxic teachers.

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