The following is a speech I delivered at San Francisco City Hall on April 19, 2013. The speech was given in honor of The Week of the Young Child.
Good morning everyone. My name is Gilbert Cardenas and I am a preschool teacher. One day, I was sitting in a coffee shop talking with a friend, and I asked him, “When you imagine a preschool teacher, what does that teacher look like?” My friend takes a moment and then responds. “I don’t know, but I don’t think of a 260 pound man with a goatee.”
This is probably true. When you think preschool teacher, you probably don’t imagine me. And, if you’re a three or four old child entering a preschool classroom, you probably don’t imagine me either. When you’re small and leaving you’re parents and home for the first time in your life, preschool can be a very foreign place.
But, along with my co-teacher, Jenny Hong, we do our best to make our classroom, the Room 3 Rolly Pollies, a very exciting place. Preschool is a wonderful world where learning and fun go hand in hand. You can use blocks to build castles. You can make family portraits out of watercolor. You learn that the first letter in your name is going to be the best letter in the alphabet. You can bring toys to show and tell and talk to a panda puppet. You can go outside, play tag, and Zumba dance. You try new foods like burritos, tilapia, chow mien, pastas, muffins, and on Valentines Day, red pancakes.
After a couple of months of painting and coloring, counting and writing, singing and dancing, laughing and smiling, our three and four year old students probably think, “Hey, this place is pretty fun. And that man with the goatee is pretty fun too.”
There are so many skills that start in preschool, with all of them having an impact on our students’ future. What starts as counting lays the foundation for math. What starts as sharing ideas during circle time turns into increased vocabulary and reading comprehension. What starts as problem-solving over taking turns lays the foundation for being classroom leaders. So much learning happens between preschool and third grade. If you want look at a measure that indicates the likely-hood of educational success, you’ll look at 3rd grade literacy, a major marker where some children fall behind. Children that attend preschool are more likely to be at a 3rd grade literacy level by third grade. And, if our third graders are at a third grade literacy level by third grade, they are more likely to graduate high school. For our children to grow up and be whatever they want to be, it starts with preschool.
I will sit down with my students and ask them. “What do you want to be when you grow up.” One child will answer eagerly “A police man.” I respond, “Then you should go to school, join the police academy and you can be a police officer.” Another child raises her hand and she says, “I want to be a doctor.” And I say, “That’s excellent. You should go to the big school down the street – which we call San Francisco State University.” Another child raises his hand. I call on him and ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up.” And the child smiles and excitedly says “A seal.” And I take a moment, and then respond. “Well, I don’t know where you go for that, but I know of this big, happy seal that hangs out at baseball games. Maybe we can take a field trip.”
Whatever my students want to be when they grow up, they should be provided with an opportunity to choose what they want to do, be what they want to be. These children have a large capacity to learn and succeed. They should have every chance to delight in the wonder of learning, and that starts in the wonderful world of preschool.
On behalf of the Room 1 Bumblebees, Room 2 Starfish, and Room 3 Rolly Pollies, thank you for supporting our students, thank you for supporting our families, and thank you for spreading the word of how important a preschool education is for our littlest learners. Thank you.
Teachers are some of the best advocates. They witness first hand the growth and development of a child’s mind. All of us know how important an early education is. I encourage those that have the ability to stand and speak on behalf of the children to be please do so. Shout for the tiniest voices.