04 Oct Why I’m a Preschool Teacher
by Karen Marcus
“Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best” – Bob Talbert
I love being a preschool teacher. I love seeing little faces light up with a smile when I open the door to the classroom every morning. I love it when all of a sudden I feel my leg being hugged and I look down at a child smiling up at me telling me they love me. I love listening to a room full of kids laugh just because they like how it feels. I love the “difficult” children who say no to everything and test me to see if I mean what I say. I love it when my students are so excited about a topic that they ask a million questions and don’t want to leave the rug for our next activity. I love creating a sense of community by encouraging the parents and caregivers to linger a bit at drop off and pick up and chat about what’s going on in our room and in their lives. And what I love most about being a preschool teacher is that I see the difference I make in my student’s lives, every single day.
To me, teaching preschool is very different from teaching older grades. Once a child reaches kindergarten the focus becomes academic – it’s time to learn to read, write, “do” math and take tests. The “soft skills” like learning to deal with frustration, make a plan and follow it during play, taking turns, making friends and dealing with conflict, are rarely taught and often not supported. And to be fair, what teacher has time to deal with a child who can’t sit still on the rug when she has 24 other students and a lesson to get through? But the reality is that it is the mastering of those “soft skills” that will actually determine a child’s success in elementary school and beyond. And teaching those skills is the job of a preschool teacher.
One incident in my student teaching career more than any other determined the kind of teacher I wanted to be. I was working in a gifted and talented kindergarten classroom and we were using the Teachers College Writing program. Our first assignment at the beginning of the year was for the children to write about a “small incident” that occurred over the summer. I watched one little boy literally sit for three days unable to even start the work. He was terrified of making a mistake. Here was a little boy who had gotten into the G&T program and probably heard his whole life “You are so smart!” No matter how much encouragement the teacher and I gave him, no matter how many times we said, anything you put down is fine, he couldn’t even begin. He was only 5 years old, and his self-image was already under assault. How could he be smart if this was so hard?
I came away from my student teaching determined to make the most of my kid’s precious preschool years. The following are just a few ways I use my practice to teach skills I know my students will need their whole lives.
*In my classroom, every child is told from day one that learning isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. Having trouble learning to write your name? I know…learning to write can be hard but if we practice we get better. When a child show’s me their work, I never say “you’re so smart”, instead I say “Wow, look at how well you are doing. Have you been working hard? It shows!”
*I build frustration into their day so they can learn to deal with it. For example, everyone in my class doesn’t get a job because they all want one. You don’t have a job today? I know that’s disappointing, but you know what? You’ll have one tomorrow. A child in my classroom never has to move from an area during choice-time just because they’ve been there a long time and another child wants to play there (unless it’s the first time a game or activity is out; in that case we take turns so we all get to try it). It would be great if you would share and give a turn to a friend, but you don’t have to. The child who wants to go to that area has to learn that they don’t get everything they want the moment they want it and they need to be able to make another choice they can be happy with.
*In my classroom, we are a team. That means we help each other and work together. Fair isn’t everyone getting the same thing, it’s everyone getting what they need.
*I make sure that every child in my classroom feels as safe, as loved, and as understood as they do with their parents and caregivers. The love is easy to give, but that’s not why it’s important. It’s important because I know that I absolutely cannot teach an anxious child. The personal relationship I build with each child is the foundation that allows the learning to occur.
There are many more things that are important, but it can all be summed up with one (forgive me) slightly corny phrase: I believe our job as parents and teachers is to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.
And that is why I’m a preschool teacher.
Karen Marcus earned her Masters Degree in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education at NYU becoming a preschool teacher 10 years ago. Karen has been teaching at Montclare Children’s School for five years.