The Season of Gratitude
We’re all still fighting COVID-19, and many immigrant professionals serve with us on the front lines. They make up about 17 percent of the U.S. workforce and play an outsized role in keeping us alive and fed. Immigrants make up more than one in four doctors, nearly half of the nation’s taxi drivers, a quarter of food service workers and most farmworkers—all jobs the government calls “essential.” As immigrant professionals report to work in hospitals, cabs, restaurant kitchens and the fields, they put themselves at a higher risk of infection. And we should be thankful for the sacrifices they make as we celebrate Thanksgiving this month.
We should also be grateful for some unsung heroes of the pandemic—the immigrant teachers who work in the early childhood sector. Nationwide, more than 278,000 immigrant educators make up 17.7 percent of all workers at child care centers. These educators help care for children of essential workers and many also guide parents on how to keep teaching young children at home. From socially distant play to virtual story time, these committed educators have adapted their programs to ensure children stay safe and adjust to the learning climate.
Many of our immigrant teachers are Hispanic, and we continue to honor their achievements this month by putting a spotlight on Larissa Sales-Sanchez, founder of USTRIVE. A former child care provider, she now assists teachers and parents in working with young bilingual learners and breaking the barriers that often hold them back. She identifies with the kids because she remembers her own struggles speaking English when she first came to the U.S. from Brazil.
So does Najwa Dahdah, a native of Jordan and CEO of Empowered Child Care Consulting. Her company has trained over 300 students for the Child Development Associate® (CDA) credential and equipped them to build careers as culturally responsive teachers. Many of her students come from the communities they serve, so they understand the language and know the hardships the children and families face as they carve out a new life in this country.
Competent, qualified teachers like this fill a vital role as we face an ongoing shortage of child care workers, now aggravated by the pandemic. Immigrants are in especially high demand to work in ECE because children five and under are the most racially and ethnically diverse age group in the country, said Maki Park, a senior policy analyst for Early Education and Care with the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC. “Not only is there a shortage and a need for early childhood workers across the board, but in particular there’s a need for workers who have the cultural and language skills to serve the population of children that we have.”
Immigrant teachers could be the solution. And newcomers to our country are thankful for the chance to enter the ECE field, judging from comments made by CDA students at Mt. Hood Community College in Portland, OR. “I love children, and it’s so close to social work. It’s not like teaching children how to write and read. No, it’s to teach them how to be ready for life, for school, for the future,” said Lulose Claude, an educator from Haiti. “This is a very important job. And this is very serious,” said Mexican educator Carmina Abrego. So “it’s too bad that people don’t value it and don’t appreciate how serious it is.”
As a result, ECE teachers have been underpaid for too long. But more investment in the field might be forthcoming, the Council’s CEO Dr. Calvin Moore recently told HiMama in its 2020 Child Care Benchmark Report. The COVID-19 crisis has increased recognition that child care workers really are essential workers who deserve a fair wage. That could be the silver lining in these somber times—and another good reason for us to give thanks.
With gratitude for giving young children your all,
The Council for Professional Recognition