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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Ready Or Not, Part 4: Teaching The Teachers

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Hundreds of evening workshops and classes are offered to child care workers throughout the state, but Northern Lights Director Nancy Sugarman says Vermont could still do better when it comes to training the teachers of our youngest children.

Research shows that the young brain is developing at a faster rate than we previously thought, and that there are good and bad strategies to help children acquire language and the love of learning.

So Vermont’s child care providers are learning the best way to introduce books into a child’s daily routine.

One of those early literacy training sessions takes place at the Springfield Area Parent and Child Center. The teacher is Laura Lawson Tucker, an outreach specialist for the Vermont Humanities Council.

“What young children need more than anything is real interaction with real people [and] strong relationships, and the heart of those relationships is language,” Lawson Tucker says.

“That language could be non-verbal, it could be through gesture, it can be through eye contact, it could be through sounds. And the crux of that is that we want our children to know that number one, they have trusting relationships and within that, they will venture out in this world of language, feel brave and courageous to learn and be a learner,” Lawson Tucker adds as students — who are themselves teachers — take their seats in a circle.

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Laura Lawson Tucker, right, leads early literacy workshop for child care workers at the Springfield Area Parent and Child Center.

It’s not enough, Lawson Tucker tells them, to plunk little kids down on the floor, demand silence, and read at them. Much better, she advises, to let them act stories out and sing them, with sweeping gestures.

Next she leads the child care workers in a rousing chorus of the popular children’s ditty, The Itsy Bitsy Spider.

One of the choristers is an employee of the Learning Garden, a local child care center certified to educate children for the Springfield school district. Lauren Wallace earned her B.A. in psychology from Keene State College before realizing she wanted to work with small children. On the job and in training sessions like this, she’s had to add skills she didn't learn in college.

"I got so much more through the trainings than I did in my psychology classes." - Lauren Wallace

“Because we did the development pieces of child development and … kind of touched on it, for my general pysch classes. But coming here ... I got so much more through the trainings than I did in my psychology classes,” Wallace explains.

She’s learning from Laura Lawson Tucker how kids need to interact with the people who read with them.

“Those kinds of experiences are getting lost and getting taken over by time with iPads or whatever it might be,” Lawson Tucker laments.

At the end of the workshop, she gives each teacher a stack of children’s books to take back to their centers. One is called Press Here. Each page presents printed colored circles that resemble buttons on electronic toys.

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A flip chart for an early literacy workshop in Springfield lists essentials for a rich learning environment.

“What do you think your children will expect?” Lawson Tucker asks. “You tell me … I would be curious, interested to see what happened, what are their reactions, what happens when this isn’t electronic, when they figure out this is actually not an electronic devices, this is a book. What’s their response to that?”

Recording those responses is their homework assignment for next week’s session.

This is one of hundreds of evening workshops and classes offered to child care workers throughout the state. Many are provided through the Northern Lights Career Development Center. Northern Lights issues certificates to people working in the field who meet education and experience requirements and have a current professional development plan.

The levels range from 45 hours of training to a master's degree. Over 700 certificates have been issued since 2008. But Northern Lights Director Nancy Sugarman says Vermont could still do better when it comes to training the teachers of our youngest children.

“Especially compared to other states that have really said, ‘All early childhood providers need to have a college degree and we’re going to put our money behind making sure they all have access to it.’ Our access to college degrees with an early childhood license has actually shrunk over the years,” Sugarman says.

Northern Lights Director Nancy Sugarman says Vermont could still do better when it comes to training the teachers of our youngest children.

Most early educators earn their licenses through state-approved baccalaureate programs. Or, an applicant who holds a B.A. degree can take an alternate route, known as peer review. Not every child care worker has the time and money required to get those credentials. But there are grants and other forms of assistance to support professional development, and more and more will need additional education, if they are to educate preschoolers at state expense.

This is the fourth installment in Ready or Not, a five-part series on expanding early childhood education in Vermont. 

Ready Or Not, Part 1: Kindergarten Is The Big Test

Ready Or Not, Part 2: Ensuring Pre-K Quality

Ready Or Not, Part 3: Reaching For 'Stars'

Ready Or Not, Part 4: Teaching The Teachers

Ready Or Not, Part 5: Doing The Math

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