An Academic Pipeline to Grow and Strengthen Early Educators

The Bay Area is currently in a child care crisis, an issue close to the heart at Children’s Council. “Especially since the pandemic, so many programs have closed,” says Professor Nadiyah Taylor of Las Positas College in Livermore, California. 

Professor Nadiyah Taylor, Las Positas College

“People are still struggling economically and the group of family child care providers is dwindling,” she says. Professor Taylor is a faculty member involved in Children’s Council’s Pipeline for Black Early Childhood Educator Career Development program. This program features one way we are beginning to address the crisis: creating an accessible career pathways to bring in more teachers to the profession.

The Pipeline provides a pathway for adult Black students to gain academic certifications in early childhood education alongside a cohort of peers. One of the aims of the Pipeline program is to increase the number and quality of home-based child care programs. Another is to increase the number of Black teachers in early education classrooms. To put it simply, what’s good for children is good for families; and what’s good for families is good for our community.

Centering the needs of our children

The Pipeline program is centered around meeting the needs of young children by strengthening the knowledge and experience of their earliest teachers. “The goal of increasing the number of Black educators is definitely part of it,” Professor Taylor says.

“Strengthening those who are already educators is also very important. The instant value is that they’re going to be even better educators to children and hopefully better supports to families.”

This program is a testament to the passion that so many early care and education providers have for doing their best to help children thrive. Even though the students in the Pipeline may not be required to take classes to work in the field, they’re investing in their education to support the health, safety and learning of the students they teach.

“To get licensed [as a family child care home by the State of California], you have to have first aid, CPR, a licensing visit and 15 hours of health and safety training — that’s it,” says Professor Taylor. “So it’s a pretty low bar for people who are going to be taking care of our most valuable citizens. And it’s wonderful that we have people in our cohort who are not at all required to take credit-bearing classes. Yet, they’re doing it for the benefit of children and families. I think that’s very important,” she says.

Professor Taylor regularly witnesses “aha” moments from her students when it comes to learning about child development: “I have actually heard lots of folks say: ‘I am noticing that with my child’. Or, ‘I’m trying to figure out how to do this more or differently’. Or ‘this just reminds me that I really do need to advocate at my child’s school,’” she says.

Motivation for learning: to do better for children and community

The adult students in this program are either currently working in early childhood education or aspiring to. Per Professor Taylor, most say they are getting their teaching permit because they deeply care about children and their community.

She says the students frequently tell her that “I’m here because I want to do better. I want our children to do better. And I think we need our children to see people who look like us.”

As someone who grew up in Chicago in the 70’s after the Civil Rights Movement, Professor Taylor had her first Black teacher in preschool. She fondly remembers posters in her schools that said “Black is Beautiful,” but she noticed a trend as she started to advance in academia.

“Once I got to elementary school or in high school during honors classes, there were very few Black people,” Professor Taylor remembers. “I went to a high school that was 85% Black, but I was almost always one of two Black people in my honors classes. When I was in college, I had only two Black instructors over four years.”

She sees this work to encourage and train Black teachers as important for everyone. “Having an increased pool of Black teachers at any level of education is going to be beneficial — to the students who look like them and are from their same background — but also really important for all of the children and other teachers and school districts to experience.”

Learning to engage parents helps children

Learning, dialoguing about and understanding child development has positive impacts for children–also for the families with whom early educators work. “There is a value to being able to say, ‘we do it this way and it’s research-based’,” says Professor Taylor. “It’s a good opportunity for parent engagement and education and for bolstering professional confidence and professional pride.”

Fostering a strong school-home relationship is something Professor Taylor is passionate about.

“When there’s a strong home-school connection, children do better in school,” she says. “When there is a strong connection and respect between family members and the early educators, it helps children to feel safer because the family feels safe. It can be a real support for families, especially those that are having more complex and sometimes chaotic lives because this [the early education program] becomes a completely steady place and schedule.”

Professor Taylor wants students in the program to learn that a child’s context matters — and understanding more about their home life helps educators be culturally responsive. “It’s important to understand more about the context that that child is coming from…so that we as educators also have more empathy, compassion and understanding,” she says. “It’s really hard to be culturally responsive in the classroom if you don’t know anything about who the children are.”

Strategizing with students about ways to creatively engage with families of the children they’re educating is equally important, according to Professor Taylor. “We have to be not afraid to talk with families. We have to think of ways to effectively communicate with families.”

Overcoming barriers for students requires support and investment

Going back to school is hard work, especially when you’re parenting and running your own business out of your home at the same time.

As non-traditional students juggling many competing priorities, the barriers to learning and getting a teacher’s certificate can be daunting.

“In terms of institutional barriers, we have many,” says Professor Taylor. While the college is based in Livermore, students are spread across the Bay Area, and so, classes for this program are primarily taught online. Colleges are not always the most accommodating to the needs of someone who has a family. Without childcare or dinner offered, in-person classes are out of reach for many continuing students.

In academia, we don’t really think about our students as whole people with lives and challenges….academia makes it really hard to just be a person,” she says.

Technology is a barrier for many of the students in the program — one that Professor Taylor spends a lot of time and effort helping students navigate.

“Technology…it’s so many small things that I take for granted,” she says. “I say ‘upload your paper,’ but students are like, ‘what do you mean? How do I do that?’. Some have never created PowerPoint before. I have students with a wide age span. I think there’s an assumption that people who are young are automatically really good with technology. But having comfort around technology and then being really good at it are different things.” 

Working with this cohort of students, providing in-depth support navigating bureaucracies inherent in the college institution, and helping them overcome technology barriers has enabled Professor Taylor to see the ways in which there is more to be done to make pipeline students feel comfortable and accessible in school going forward.

“I do my best, within boundaries, to help students be prepared that there’s a very good chance that something’s going to come up and that you may turn something in late,” she says. “How will you prepare for that circumstance? As an instructor, how can I hold them accountable but also provide some leeway? Unfortunately, I think in many cases, students won’t experience flexibility around their work and family lives in academia.”

With tailored case management support from Children’s Council staff as well as the understanding and empathy of faculty like Professor Taylor, students in this program get the extra support they need to help keep going even when life gets tough.

“The students in this program are incredibly persistent,” says Professor Taylor. “We have students who have a variety of life circumstances going on…new babies, people with multiple jobs…some have even had deaths in the family.”

Professor Taylor recalls that one student messaged her recently to say they’d be off camera for today’s class because they were in the hospital. “People are really working very hard to make this possible despite a lot of different institutional and personal barriers,” she says.

Investing in early education is investing in our community

Programs like the Pipeline are poised to have a ripple effect on our community. “This is a really unique opportunity to invest directly in your community,” Professor Taylor says.

“Students are supported financially. They’re supported socially, emotionally, through case management and through the faculty. They’re in this place where they can be surrounded by others who share some level of connection with them culturally. It’s a wonderful investment for people as educators and as parents, and has a great ripple effect into the community,” she says.

To Professor Taylor, early education is a time in a child’s life where we make an investment in our collective future. “Any time we’re investing in early education, we are only doing better for ourselves as a society,” says Professor Taylor. “When we think about equity and education, this is an opportunity to really take direct action in the experiences of children and families and teachers.”