Date of Award

August 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Education

First Advisor

Gary L. Williams

Committee Members

Cheryl K. Baldwin, Barbara L. Bales, Pamla J. Boulton


African American Women, Barriers to Professionalization, Center Based Childcare, Childcare Teachers, Construction of Professional Identity, Professionalization


The purpose of this study is to understand how African American women working in center-based childcare programs in Milwaukee describe their professional identity. In Milwaukee, approximately 1,500 women who identify as African American are employed as childcare directors and teachers. At least 45% of them are reported as meeting only basic education requirements. This is problematic as Milwaukee experiences the highest number of children and families receiving childcare subsidies through the Wisconsin Shares Program. How can low-income minority children enrolled in childcare programs in Milwaukee expect to be prepared to enter kindergarten without having access to teachers who have sufficient education to prepare them? Professionalization includes a specialized body of knowledge and competencies. Do teachers who meet only basic education requirements have this knowledge? Without it, can they be considered professionals? If they are not considered professionals, what are they considered? How do they consider themselves? Does their description of themselves differ from the way the childcare field describes them? Relying on written surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews, this qualitative study yielded a sample size of eighty (N=80) respondents working in center-based childcare programs in Milwaukee County. Challenges to this study were evidenced in the difficulty of obtaining responses from a population comprised primarily of low-wage workers and diverse communities. Study findings revealed that African American women working in center-based programs in Milwaukee County describe themselves as professionals, which is not different from the way the childcare field describes them. Despite their self-perceptions of being professionals, respondents reported low wages, tuition costs and work schedules as barriers preventing them from degree attainment.

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