Janiecka Brown: Mentoring Maryland Teachers

February 22, 2023

“There’s a big push in Maryland, now,” Janiecka says “for people to earn their Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™.” State support for the CDA® is part of a long-term plan to provide child care for all, as set out in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. And Janiecka is helping to build the future now by guiding folks in earning their CDA. She’s expanding the pool of qualified early childhood teachers as a Head Start center manager at Community Action Council of Howard County, adjunct instructor at Community College of Baltimore County and Professional Development Specialist for the Council. “Getting a CDA is a way for early childhood teachers to prove they are professionals,” Janiecka explains. And she’s seen the value of their work during her 28 years in the ECE profession.

“What we do or say to the little folks and their families is very important,” Janiecka came to realize soon after she entered the early childhood field. “It was actually by accident,” she recalls, “since I was planning on becoming a nurse. Before that, I did a program to become a medical assistant. But when I completed the program, I was having trouble finding a job in the medical field. Meanwhile, I kept seeing ads for jobs in child care, so I did a couple of interviews, and I got hired. Then it turned out that I really enjoyed working in the early childhood field, so I earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Since then, I’ve continued my education and quickly moved up the ranks in my field,” Janiecka says.

And Janiecka credits a lot of her success to the people who’ve mentored her along the way. One of them was a lead teacher at the Young School, where Janiecka began her career as an assistant teacher. “Shortly after I started there,” Janiecka says, “she told me she was leaving and thought I should take over the classroom. So, she encouraged me to take the college courses that would qualify me for the job.” Now Janiecka teaches college courses, thanks to a supervisor who mentored her after she took a job at the Community Action Council in 2005. “She was working at the community college as an instructor and recommended me for the job after she decided to step back. Now I enjoy the chance to help rising teachers gain the knowledge they need,” Janiecka says. And she also enjoys the chances she’s had as a PDS to mentor people while assessing them for the CDA.

One candidate was a bus aide who Janiecka met while teaching at Community Action Council some years ago, before becoming a manager in 2019. “Nicole wanted to be a teacher,” Janiecka recalls, “so I invited her to visit the classroom and ask questions about what I was doing. This inspired her to go on and get her CDA so she could fulfill her goal. Years later, she asked me to do her observation and it was really rewarding to see Nicole in action while she interacted with the children,” Janiecka says. “Her performance in the classroom meant a lot to me since I had launched her on the journey to a career in early childhood education.”

And Sarah was also at the start of her climb to success when Janiecka met her. “She was an assistant teacher when she took an infant and toddler class with me at the community college,” Janiecka recalls, “and during our class discussions she talked about how much she was learning. Then five years later, she reached out and asked me to be her PD Specialist, so I went to observe her just a few months ago. It was wonderful watching Sarah bring to life some of the discussions that we had in class about building connections with children and helping them make transitions to different stages of growth.” And Sarah grew, too, because earning a CDA allowed her to become a lead teacher.

She was an older, nontraditional student like many of the people who Janiecka works with, and they often have fears about going to school. They also have other obligations like families and jobs, so Janiecka makes a conscious effort to put them at ease. “What I like to do is base my classes around discussions, instead of tests or quizzes,” she says. “One of the first things I tell them is that I’m not here to fail anybody. I’m here with the hope that you’ll leave me with more knowledge, and I think that makes them feel better,” Janiecka explains. And she can empathize with their concerns because she’s been there, too, as a working mom. “It took me a long time, to get my associate and bachelor’s degrees. But I managed, and now I’m working on my master’s degree in early childhood leadership and advocacy,” she says.

And she’s already showing her leadership skills as center manager at the Community Action Council since 2021. In her current role, she encourages staff members to earn their CDA, and several have succeeded despite their initial fears. “A lot of people feel intimidated,” she explains, “because they don’t completely understand what’s involved in earning the credential. But once they start working on a CDA, they realize it’s not such a difficult process. And I help by coaching them and introducing them to people who have already earned their credential.”

That includes a young woman who used to work as an assistant teacher in Janiecka’s program. “I did her observation when she earned her CDA, and now she works for us in HR,” Janiecka says. “And it’s memorable to watch people grow in the ECE field after earning their credential. The CDA is a steppingstone to professional advancement, and it may not always equate to staying in the classroom. There are other avenues you can take.” And Janiecka is committed to helping people explore the different career paths ahead by being encouraging and kind.

As a PD Specialist, she works hard to help candidates relax. “I know people are nervous when they go through observations,” she explains, “so I just let them know I understand how they feel. I tell them I’m still in the field and I’m not sitting here trying to judge you. I’m here to help you. We’re equals because we’re both professionals in ECE.”

And Maryland needs more people like this to carry out its blueprint to provide pre-K for all, so, Janiecka is spreading the word that Maryland will pay for people to earn their CDA. “I tell them there’s a grant that will help pay for your credential. There is financial assistance, so you don’t have to do this on your own like I did. And earning a CDA is a great way for people to learn about best practices in ECE,” Janiecka says. She knows that the success of Maryland’s Blueprint for the Future depends on having the best teachers it possibly can. “It’s important to have educated professionals,” she says, “in early childhood classrooms throughout the state.”

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