Examining the Relationship between Teacher Qualifications, Teacher Stability, and the Quality of Classroom Learning Environments in Child Care Centers
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High quality early childhood programs lead to positive effects on children's development in physical, cognitive, social and emotional domains (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). As an important component of quality child care programs, the classroom learning environment sets a platform for children’s optimal development and learning. Early childhood teachers are pivotal in creating the quality of the learning environment for children. This study used mixed methods research to examine the relationship between teacher qualifications, teacher stability, and the quality of classroom learning environments at child care centers. Included in the study were eleven child care centers from the United Way Bright Beginnings (UWBB) program in the greater Houston areas of Texas. A total of two hundred fourteen (214) classroom observations from these child care centers were included in this study. Annual data were collected for five consecutive years from 2006 to 2010 on teacher qualifications, teacher stability, and the quality of the learning environment as measured by nationally recognized Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised Edition (ITERS-R) (Harms, Cryer, & Clifford, 2003) and Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, Revised Edition (ECERS-R) (Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 1998). Non-parametric Spearman’s Rho correlational analyses were employed to examine the strength of the relationships between variables (teacher qualifications, teacher stability, and the quality of classroom learning environments). The data indicated that teacher professional training in early childhood education was significantly and positively correlated with ECERS-R Total scores (r = 0.759, p<0.01). Early childhood training was also positively correlated with the ECERS-R subscale Interaction (r = 0.596, p<0.05). Additionally, early childhood teachers’ years of experience in child care was significantly and positively correlated with Total ECERS-R scores (r=0.283, p<0.05), ECERS-R subscale Space and Furnishing (r=0.254, p<0.05), and Activities (r=0.255, p<0.05). Teacher experience in child care was significantly and positively correlated with scores of Physical environment (r=0.289, p<0.01) and Interpersonal environment (r=0.240, p<0.05). Teacher stability was significantly negatively correlated with Personal Care Routines in early childhood classroom (r=-0.706, p<0.05), but positively correlated in infant/toddler classroom (r=0.216, p<0.05); experienced teachers paid close attention to hygiene with infants and toddlers (birth to 2½ years old) but were not as concerned with this issue among early childhood age children (2 ½ through 5 years of age). The findings from interviews of child care center directors also suggest that well-trained and skilled experienced teachers are the key to improving and sustaining the quality of classroom learning environment at child care centers. This study provides a comprehensive understanding of the relationships between specific teacher characteristics to the quality of learning environments from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives.