Bright Horizons COO: Why We're Paying for Our Teachers' Education

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Recently we made a big announcement about a new program to pay for full-time employees in our child care centers and preschools to earn an associate and bachelor's degree...for free. The question you might be asking is...why?

For that, you have to go to our centers.

Going to our child care centers is one of the things I love about my job. Every time I'm there, I get to be surrounded by people whose life's work is helping small children to be all that they can be; who can't think of anything they'd rather do than spend their days teaching the youngest students how to explore and learn; who help little ones find their talents and feel safe in the world so they can be confident enough to be curious.

We hear from parents who call these teachers "amazing" and even "magical" for the way they figure out what makes each child tick, and then come up with a way to zero in on those very things to help them make big discoveries.

I've been lucky enough to see those "aha" moments - when children finally grasp something they've been struggling with for a while. And I will tell you that every time, the teacher is as excited as the child.

What Great Teachers Mean to Families Like Mine

Over the years, I've seen what great teachers can do. I love the story about one who went out of her way on a Saturday to rescue a prized stuffed animal (it had been left at a center) and deliver her (or him) to the rightful owner just because she's that invested in her job..and because she knew that education is more than school lessons, but also about the trust between families and teachers.

I've seen what teachers mean to people. We have 18 year olds - people about to go to college - who come back to our centers more than a decade after they finished preschool just to find their teachers and say, "You meant so much to me;" or "because of you, I've decided to become a teacher." One of our teachers got a visit from a young man on his way to basic training -- 14 years after preschool - who just wanted to say, "thanks." We've had former students whose early years meant to much to them, they've come back to work for us. Those moments are the reason I've been with this company for more than two decades.

I can also tell you what these teachers have meant to me personally. My daughters are both proud alumni of Bright Horizons; they took some first steps there; learned some first words, and got love and care and learning from teachers I will always be grateful to. Just as important is what these teachers taught my husband and me - about raising children and establishing a foundation as parents.

What Great Teachers Mean for All of Us

Research has shown us over and over again that a great early education has enormous benefits - for our children, for tomorrow's workforces, and for our society. And great teachers are the key to those benefits.  Supporting those teachers - giving them a chance to fulfill both their personal and professional goals - supports both our mission as an organization and our goals as people.

My daughters are now in middle school and high school. And I will tell you with 100% certainty, they remember their Bright Horizons teachers. They are the students they are today in no small part because of them. They gave them a great start. Because of those teachers, on Teacher Appreciation Day, I'm that mom making sure I have gift cards for every single teacher on my list.

Everything we do in our centers comes back to the teachers. They're the ones in the classrooms. They're the ones boldly bringing our curriculum to life. We want to give them every opportunity to be their best...and to be the best.

And that's why we're paying for our teacher's education.

Written by: Mary Lou Burke Afonso

About the Author

Mary Lou Burke Afonso at Bright Horizons

Mary Lou Burke Afonso is a 20-year veteran of Bright Horizons, having served in a variety of leadership roles in nearly every aspect of the organization, including operation, finance and client relations. In her current role as Chief Operating Officer, North America Center Operations, she is responsible for overseeing the operational leadership and management of all North America-based child care centers and schools. She also oversees all center relations with current clients. Mary Lou is a graduate of Boston College School of Management.