Teacher Preparation and Teacher-Child Interaction
in Preschools. ERIC Digest.
by Kontos, Susan - Wilcox-Herzog, Amanda
The quality of the interactions between teachers and young children
has long been a topic of discussion among early childhood educators and
others concerned with young children's development. It is generally agreed
that because so much basic early learning (e.g., language, social competence)
occurs through interactive experiences when children are very young, the
quality of teacher- child interactions contributes substantially to effects
that early group care and preschool education have on children (Bowman,
Donovan, & Burns, 2001). Many early childhood teachers enter the field
with little education beyond high school and minimal specialized education
in child development or early childhood education. Researchers have therefore
wondered whether the general level of education, specialized training in
early childhood development and education, or both, are related to the
quality of teachers' interactions with young children. Many states allow
teachers to do their work with little if any specialized education (Phillips,
Lande, & Goldberg, 1990). Thus, it is important to know if specialized
education in early childhood education is related to teachers' effectiveness
on the job. This Digest discusses the research on general and specialized
education as factors in teachers' interactions with children. The term
teacher is used here to refer to teachers and caregivers for the sake of
GENERAL EDUCATION AND TEACHER-CHILD INTERACTION
A well-known study conducted by Berk (1985) focused on the relationship
between teacher education and teacher behavior toward children in child
care settings. She found that teachers with college degrees were more likely
than those without a degree to encourage children, make suggestions to
them, and promote their verbal skills.
Another well-known study, the National Day Care Study (Ruopp et al.,
1979), demonstrated that caregiver education was positively associated
with the amount of social interaction, cognitive/language stimulation,
and conversation with children. The National Child Care Staffing Study
(Whitebook, Howes, & Phillips, 1990), a large, multisite study, found
that education was the caregiver background variable that best predicted
caregiver behavior (sensitivity, harshness, detachment). On the other hand,
a large, multisite study of infant/toddler care (NICHD Early Child Care
Research Network [ECCRN], 1996) found no relationship between teachers'
education and frequency or ratings of positive caregiving.
A study by Kontos et al. (1995) demonstrated similar relationships between
interactions and formal education for family child care providers and for
teachers in centers. In this study, level of formal schooling was significantly
positively related to observer ratings of provider sensitivity and observations
of responsive involvement with children, but negatively related to observer
ratings of detachment and to providers' self-ratings of restrictiveness.
Some other recent studies found mixed results, partly because they measured
teacher behavior in different ways and partly because the programs studied
had different characteristics.
SPECIALIZED EDUCATION AND TEACHER-CHILD INTERACTIONS
Several studies have examined the relationship between teachers' behaviors
with children and their specialized education. A follow-up analysis of
National Child Care Staffing Study data (Howes, Whitebook, & Phillips,
1992) indicated that specialized education at the college level was important
for teachers' competent interactions with infants and toddlers (as measured
by the appropriate caregiving subscale of the Infant- Toddler Environmental
Rating Scale (ITERS)), in contrast to preschool teachers who seemed to
do well with a college degree in any subject or specialized education at
the college level. Howes (1983) demonstrated that center-based caregivers
with more specialized education played more with children and were less
restrictive. In addition, family child care providers with more specialized
education also played more with children and showed more responsivity-results
consistent with those reported by Kontos and colleagues (1995).
Arnett (1989) observed the behavior of 159 child care teachers in Bermuda
with four different levels of specialized education ranging from no training
to extensive training (a college degree in early childhood education).
Results demonstrated that teachers with degrees showed more warmth and
were less punitive and detached in their interactions with children than
teachers in the other three groups. Teachers with mid-range training in
child development were more positive and less punitive and detached than
teachers with no training. Thus, Arnett demonstrated that some specialized
education is good for the quality of teachers' interactions with children,
but that more is even better.
Several studies failed to show a relationship between specialized education
and teachers' interactions with children. Cassidy and Buell (1996) reported
that, in spite of increased Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale
(ECERS) scores following specialized education, there was no change in
the amount of responsive language used by teachers. In other words, the
coursework appears to have influenced overall classroom quality but not
the quality of teachers' verbalizations with children. Family-to-Family
training (training developed by a partnership of community organizations
and family child care providers) did not change the sensitivity or responsiveness
of the providers' interactions with the children, although quality was
enhanced (Kontos, Howes, & Galinsky, 1996). Thus, results regarding
the association between specialized education and teachers' interactions
with children are mixed in studies using quasi-experimental designs.
One problem with research examining the effects or correlates of teacher
education and specialized education in early childhood education is that
the two factors tend to be intertwined. Teachers with more formal education
were also more likely to have more specialized education. Berk (1985),
for instance, demonstrated differences in teachers' interactions with children
between teachers with specialized education and those with high school
diplomas (in favor of the former), but she was unable to show that specialized
education was superior to a degree in an unrelated field.
Another problem is that the amount of formal and specialized education
tends to be calculated as continuous variables (that is, actual years of
education) rather than categorized into groups such as teachers with a
high school diploma, teachers with a bachelor's degree, and so on. As a
result, although these studies investigate relationships between teachers'
education and other variables, they cannot be used as a source of policy-relevant
information regarding which category of education (formal or specialized)
makes a significant difference to practice.
Howes (1997) conducted a study that attempted to address both of these
two research problems. Using data from two large investigations of child
care, Howes classified teachers into five categories by crossing categories
of formal education with categories of specialized education and including
in the study only teachers who fit into those categories. These categories
were high school diploma with workshops, Child Development Associate (CDA)
training, some college with some early childhood education courses, associate's
degree (AA) in early childhood, and an undergraduate or graduate degree
in early childhood. Groups were compared for teacher sensitivity (Arnett,
1989) and involvement (Howes & Stewart, 1987). Results from both studies
indicated that teachers with bachelor's degrees in early childhood education
or higher were the most sensitive and involved teachers compared to all
other groups. Teachers with AA degrees and CDA credentials were more sensitive
and involved than teachers with some college or high school plus workshops,
however. These data suggest that coherent teacher preparation programs
(regardless of length or cost) are more effective in preparing teachers
than are ad hoc educational experiences.
One study reported results contrary to the studies above. The National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD/ECCRN, 1996) study
of early child care examined predictors of positive caregiving in settings
with infants and toddlers. The NICHD/ECCRN study found that specialized
education was more important for work with preschoolers than with infants
and toddlers. Specialized education was not among the statistically significant
predictors of positive caregiving for that age group. Instead, positive
caregiving was predicted by the size of the group and child-to-adult ratio.
There is considerable evidence that specialized training is related
to the quality of teachers' interactions with children. Two studies (Cassidy
et al., 1995; Kontos, Howes, & Galinsky, 1996) used quasi-experimental
designs that suggest causality between specialized education and practice.
These two studies support the idea that global indicators of quality may
change somewhat (at least statistically, if not observably), but that observations
of teachers' interactions with children revealed no change as a function
of specialized education. It may be that researchers are not observing
the kinds of behaviors that are likely to change as a function of specialized
education. Two studies (Howes, Whitebook, & Phillips, 1992; NICHD/ECCRN,
1996) found different results for infants/toddlers compared to preschoolers.
Howes found specialized education most important for work with infants,
whereas the NICHD/ECCRN study found specialized education more important
for work with preschoolers. More specific research is needed on teacher-child
interactions to clarify existing studies.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Arnett, J. (1989). Caregivers in day-care centers: Does training matter?
JOURNAL OF APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 10(4), 541-552.
Berk, L. (1985). Relationship of caregiver education to child-oriented
attitudes, job satisfaction, and behaviors toward children. CHILD CARE
QUARTERLY, 14(2), 103-129.
Bowman, B. T., Donovan, M. S., & Burns, M. S. (Eds.). (2001). EAGER
TO LEARN: EDUCATING OUR PRESCHOOLERS. Washington, DC: Committee on Early
Childhood Pedagogy, National Research Council. ED 447 963.
Cassidy, D. J., & Buell, M. J. (1996). Accentuating the positive?
An analysis of teacher verbalizations with young children. CHILD AND YOUTH
CARE FORUM, 25(6), 403-414.
Cassidy, D. J., Buell, M. J., Pugh-Hoese, S., & Russell, S. (1995).
The effect of education on child care teachers' beliefs and classroom quality:
Year one evaluation of the TEACH early childhood associate degree scholarship
program. EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY, 10(2), 171-183. EJ 508 860.
Howes, C. (1983). Caregiver behavior in center and family day care.
JOURNAL OF APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 4(1), 99-107.
Howes C. (1997). Children's experiences in center-based child care as
a function of teacher background and adult:child ratio. MERRILL-PALMER
QUARTERLY, 43(3), 404-425. EJ 554 324.
Howes, C., & Stewart, P. (1987). Child's play with adults, toys,
and peers: An examination of family and child-care influences. DEVELOPMENTAL
PSYCHOLOGY, 23(3), 423-430. EJ 355 917.
Howes, C., Whitebook, M., & Phillips, D. (1992). Teacher characteristics
and effective teaching in child care: Findings from the National Child
Care Staffing Study. CHILD AND YOUTH CARE FORUM, 21(6), 399-414.
Kontos, S., Howes, C., & Galinsky, E. (1996). Does training make
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Kontos, S., Howes, C., Shinn, M., & Galinsky, E. (1995). QUALITY
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NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (ECCRN). (1996). Characteristics
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Phillips, D., Lande, J., & Goldberg, M. (1990). The state of child
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CARE TEACHERS AND THE QUALITY OF CARE IN AMERICA. FINAL REPORT OF THE NATIONAL
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