Working through the Pain

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I admit. There were days when I taught and I was not 100%. Probably not even 70%. Still, unless I was physically unable to (and there were days), I made it to the classroom.

Now, before you start thinking I was one of those teachers who showed up everyday because of their commitment, you’d be wrong. Sure, that was part of why I showed up consistently, but there are other reasons. Need the pay check. Didn’t feel good abandoning my assistant to working with a sub. I didn’t have any sick or vacation time.

Still, I don’t think that many people realize that teachers work through pain. We work through pain. And, during my teaching career, there have been three consistent culprits.

Migraines

These are the worst. Walking around feeling like someone bludgeoned you with a mallet. Unable to stay balanced when walking. Noises and light pierce your senses like javelins. Migraines are no fun.

It usually starts with me waking up with a headache. Then, taking a brief assessment, I have to decide whether this will be a full blown migraine or something manageable. Sometimes, I would call in sick. The rest of the time, I would show up to work and either 1) aggressively drink water, rest during breaks and the headache would be gone by noon or 2) the migraine would become full-blown and I would be gone by noon.

Noon is make-it or break-it time for me.

Injured Ankles

I rolled my ankle 2 or 3 times over my four years of teaching preschool. Every time it happened, it was because I was playing outside with the kiddos. Tag. Freeze Tag. Ugh… pretty much the games where I was running. Guess I don’t have the best of balance.

One time, I rolled my ankle so severely, I was required to go on disability for a few weeks and walk around with a cane. I thought to myself “Wow, I need a cane?” in disbelief. But then I thought, “I’m gonna put flames on it like House.”

Back Spasms

I’m a big guy working in a room with tiny furniture. Whenever I sat down in the tiny chairs, that last foot or so before my bottom hit the seat ended up being a controlled fall. Add to that the constant getting up and down off the floor and bending over to speak with kids, back problems are sure to follow.

Some mornings, I would wake up, try and sit up in bed, and there would be pain. My face would grimace and I fell back down on my pillow. I reached over to my phone, called the school, and left a message saying I wasn’t coming in. Back spasms.

So, there it is. Working through the pain. Since changing positions, the back spasms and ankle rolls have been reduced. Ahh, but those pesky migraines endure!

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The Visiting Home Team

Lunch time. Head out to Happy Place II and get lost in thought. The parking lot overlooks a small baseball field. My eye wanders across the field, fencing and advertisements. The grass is a faded green and brown, hallmarks of early winter.

The field has a scoreboard. It reads “Home” and “Guest”. Not sure who the home team is in this neighborhood, nor have I seen a game here. Then again, it’s winter.

Just. Like. That. My mind flashes to a memory to my preschool in San Francisco. The trigger? “Home” and “Guest”.

One day, an elderly woman waited by the front door of the preschool. She pushed the door bell. Our security cameras triggered and I looked at the monitor. “Who is that?” I thought.

Buzzing the speaker, “Yes, can we help you?”

“I’m here to make a donation,” the woman said.

Through the monitor, I could see cardboard boxes at her feet. The tell-tale sign of brightly colored plastic toys stuck out. “One moment,” I say as I buzz open the door. I walk toward the front of the school.

As I approached, the woman was walking down the steps.

“These are for the kids,” she said. Inside are various toys and puzzles.

“Okay. Thank you,” I said. I looked at (and quickly assessed) the box contents. “May I ask why you decided to make a donation?”

It’s not every day – in fact, never before – has a random person ever made a random toy donation. I need to figure out motive here. Always be cautious when concerning the kiddos.

“I use to be supervisor here,” she said. “Many years ago, I was in charge here.”

Woah! Was not expecting that.

“Oh, okay,” I said. I’m still assessing the situation here, but she seems pleasant enough. “If you want, we can carry the boxes to the office. You can follow me.”

“I know where it is,” she replied.

Well, of course. She wouldn’t check out if she didn’t know where the office was.

After a few more boxes, the woman said good-bye and left in her car. It was a weird exchange. A memorable one. Just not memorable enough to where I remember her name. Later, I assessed all the donations. Everything checked out. I mean, if you were supervisor of a preschool, you would know what would be appropriate to donate.

I drift out of the memory. Snap back to today. Sitting in my car. Overlooking the baseball field.

I’m thinking. No one remembered that woman. None of my staff. Well, at that time, all of the staff had been there for, at most, five years. Still, how weird to visit your own school where you were in charge and no one knows or has ever heard of you.

Two thoughts pop in my head.

First, preschool has an amazingly disheartening employee turnover rate. Not enough pay. Too much work. Mounting stress. People go in and out the door all the time.

Second, I’m wondering if I were to visit my old school five years after I’ve left, would anyone remember me? Maybe not. There are a few teachers that I know still work there. But, of the eight staff members that were there when I was supervisor, only three remain. And that was just in 2014.

I can only imagine if I came back with a donation in 2019. I buzz the door and say, “Yeh, I’m here to make a donation. I was a supervisor here.” I don’t know if the door buzzes open or I’m considered a weirdo and the sheriff is called. Nothing like being a “Guest” in a place you use to call “Home”.

My Day as an Elf

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I looked up at the mountains of gifts. There were well over a hundred. I stood in amazement. None of the gifts were from me, but I was in charge of distribution. This is what an elf must feel like.

Donated from a couple of law offices, there were three gifts for each child in my preschool. There are 51 kiddos at my school. You can do the math. At the moment, the math I was doing was to make sure each child got their box or bag full of gifts before they left for winter break.

It was December 20, 2013.

Earlier, in late October, the children sent out letters requesting what they would like for the holidays (way, way early, I know, but tell that to all of the retail stores). Not all of children would celebrate Christmas, but my supervisor shared that it was an opportunity for children to receive something.

“More about the gesture than celebrating a holiday,” she shared.

Written in crayon (and I use the term “written” very loosely), children finished their letters which were sent to their “Winter Friend” (aka, a lawyer). And, probably as quickly as the next day, the kiddos forgot all about the picture letter they created. But on these letters, children wrote 3 things they would like for “the Winter season”.

You can see all of the careful PR we’re doing here.

A month later, on December 19, a truck load – yes, no exaggeration – of gifts came to my school.

“Cover all of the windows and don’t let the children look at the security monitors,” I told my teachers. I didn’t want the kids to see Teacher Gilbert walking through the door with giant bags of gifts, like I was the Latino Santa.

I packed all of the bags into our parent room and locked the door. A sign on the door said, “Stay out. Stay alive.” Kidding, but I wish I did.

The next day, I found myself standing in front of a mountain of gifts. There were three mountains now, because I had organized each by classroom and name. The parent room door was open. I wedged a small table in the doorway. From the door, you couldn’t see the mountains of gifts. All you could see was the table and a few clipboards with all of the children’s names – checklists to make sure every child got their gifts.

Think Walmart layaway office, minus the register and blue vest… and the layaway sign.

“This is what an elf must feel like”, I thought as I waited for 3:45 – pick-up time. Whenever I have seen a cartoon or movie of an elf, they are really the middleman, which was my position at that moment. I didn’t receive any of the “Winter Friend” letters because they were for the lawyers. I merely passed them along. I didn’t purchase or wrap any of these gifts that I was going to give to the kids. I merely passed them along.

“I’m an elf,” I thought.

But, as I was sitting there thinking about the checklists, assessing the mountains, and making sure all the gifts of there, a thought came into my head… more like a voice…

“More about the gesture than celebrating a holiday.”

Moral of the Story: Whether you celebrate Christmas or any of the end of year holidays, children should experience receiving a gift – and the feeling that goes with it.

Throughout my early childhood career, I’ve worked with children and families who live in poverty. Meals, housing and electricity can all be hardships. So, the thought of their child receiving any kind of gift during the holidays feels like a distant thought and is out of mind.

Or, perhaps not. Maybe it’s always on their mind. Perhaps these families constantly think about the holidays. They think about how they are not able to give their children gifts, a tree, or any sort of anything. They think about how their child will go to school and see other children talking about what they received for Christmas – and their child won’t have anything to share.

Rather than the holidays bringing feelings of happiness, December equates to sadness for these children and families.

So you can imagine that, on my day as an elf, sitting at a small table wedged in a doorway, the shock and surprise on the parent’s faces when I give their child a bag of gifts. And understand this so you can appreciate the rush of emotion in these parents and children – some of these families would not have had any gifts and they are the ones exhibiting this sadness.

“More about the gesture than celebrating a holiday.”

Bag after bag went out of the parent room. Smiling children. Shocked parents. Crying parents. Again and again and again over half an hour. Check after check on my clipboard as I raced back and forth between the door and the mountains. Parents said thank you – in English and in different languages. At the end of the day, most of the gifts were given out. There were two bags left – children who were absent, but they would have their gifts specially delivered to their homes before Christmas.

My work was done. So was everyone else. The teachers cleaned up their rooms, locked the doors, then said their good-byes. We’d see everybody in the new year. I heard the front door slam shut as the last teacher left the building.

I sat by myself in an empty school. Most of the lights were off. It was quiet. To myself, I replayed the last hour in my head.  All of the emotions and faces came flooding back. I teared up a little.

“I did not purchase any of the gifts,” I thought. “None of them were from me. I merely passed them along. But with every gift, I gave joy.”

I thought about the parent’s faces. “The surprise,” I thought. “The complete utter surprise on their faces.” I wiped my tears, then regained composure. I stood up and started locking up the school for winter break. I had to start my own Christmas shopping for family and friends.

I shut off all of the lights. I closed and locked the front door. My day as an elf was done.

Toot Toot Train

“Teacher, my tummy hurts,” Angelo said. His arms were folded across his abdomen and he winced his eyes.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” I said.

The classroom was getting up from nap with children in various conditions of awareness. Before nap, the kids had black beans for lunch. Beans mean one thing to me: gas. And during nap, the beans go to work.

Angelo grasped his stomach.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” I repeated, a little louder this time, so waking children could hear me and decide if they needed to tag-a-long to the throne room. Angelo nodded his head yes. “Go wait next to the door,” I said as I went around the room waking children.

From his cot, Angelo stood up… and ripped one. Whooooosshhhh! It was loud. It had bass.

“Eww,” said a child from her cot. She placed her blanket over her nose.

“Sorry,” Angelo said. He was as surprised as everyone else. Angelo stood frozen. His arms were in the air and legs bent, like he was balancing on a high wire.

I turned toward Angelo. The noise was, well, quite startling. “Angelo, go wait by the door,” I said.

Angelo, concerned, let down his arms and started toward the door. But then, as he took his first step and put weight on his foot, I heard a little “toot”. He heard it too and froze. Couple seconds, then took another step. Sure enough, another hushed “toot” could be heard.

(Oh no. He’s going to toot toot train.)

Angelo licked his lips and stared at the door. I’m sure he was doing some kind of simple math in his head, gauging the distance between him and door. There were five or six kids along his path as well.

Then, Angelo went for it.

Toot, toot, toot.

(My gosh)

Toot, toot, toot.

Kids were waking up startled as the Angelo train went puffing by their beds.

Toooot! Toooot!

Angelo was walking on his heels with his toes in the air. Tongue out on his lips. His eyes were wide as his socked feet shuffled on the tiled floor in a controlled panic.

Toot, toot, toot.

Perhaps he should shuffle his feet, skate on the tile. I don’t know. But he sped walked to the door as swiftly as he could.

Toot, toot, then silence.

“My gosh,” I said.

Angelo made it to the door. His feet were together, but his arms were out, as if he just stopped at the edge of a cliff. The class was quiet, but me and five other children stared at Angelo.

(Did that just happen?)

“Angelo,… you okay?” I asked.

“…Yes,” Angelo said, after a brief internal analysis.

Children are still staring. Then, one child who couldn’t hold it in any longer, let out a quick burst of laughter. Then another laugh from another child.

Angelo turned from the door. He couldn’t help it and let out a little smile.

“Teacher Gilbert,” Angelo said.

A couple of children had hands over the mouths and were giggling.

“Yes?” I said smiling. I couldn’t help it.

“I don’t have to go to the bathroom anymore.” he said.

“Okay. Go wait at your bed.” I said.

Angelo pivoted around. Then, slowly, let down one foot. No toot. Angelo let out a sigh of relief, walked back to his cot, then began packing up his pillow and blanket.

Moral of the Story: Bodily noises are rude as adults, but great laughter as kids.

I was inspired to write this post after reading the article Playing, Laughing, and Learning in Preschool by Sarah Smidt in TYC. Smidt observed situations that made children laugh and turned the situations into episodes of learning and relationship building. The last suggestion Smidt makes is around gas and other bodily noises.

“Break the taboo,” Smidt writes. “Learn to accept that laughter at passing gas, burping, and mouth sounds is a part of childhood, and humor will follow.”

Kids will laugh at a lot of things that are zanny and over the the top. However, bodily noises is one area where I’ve seen adults shy away from. Perhaps they think that if we encourage the behavior, then children will learn that these noises are permissible.

I’m think, however, that throughout life, there are things that are just going to happen and you just have to laugh a little. Children are learning about everything, including how their body functions. Sure, we will teach the children to pass gas in the bathroom or turn their head when they need to burp and say “Excuse me.” But there are times when kids can’t help it and they’ll laugh.

Laughter is good. Teach on the behavior for next time, but separate and celebrate the laughter.

3 Messages to Parents

I had one day to prepare my new parent orientation.

One.

Uno.

Singular dia.

Daunting and unexpected are feelings that went through me as I put my head down on the conference table.  However, positive news quickly followed.  My task would be made easier, as I was provided with a sequence of talking points, printed in a small pamphlet.  I took a quick glance and I was relieved.  I essentially had a script to follow that hit every major point of the orientation.

Yes sir, easy button!

Still, I had to read through it and I had less than 20 hours.  I spent the entire night reading, then pacing around my living room and reading the document aloud, imagining I was standing in front of the parents.  Then, I went cerebral.  I used my Mac to record myself reading the script, then transferred the audio file to my phone.  I put in my head phones and went to bed, listening to myself read the orientation script.

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Weird?  Yes.  Over the top?  My co-workers said yes. But it worked! Sucker went into long-term memory.

Why put so much effort into a parent orientation?  I mean, hey, I had a script.  If I wanted too, I could read the whole orientation to the parents and families.

Well, I took all of these measures – extreme measures – because first impressions are important, especially for those parents who are new to the preschool world.  During orientation, I want to share about the program in a conversational way, little jokes here and there while making the time fun and informational.  More eye-contact and less looking down at my script.  How would you feel if the preschool principal was telling you about the entire program while reading from a script?  You might be okay, but questions about the principal’s competency would creep into your mind.  And those concerns may lead you to question the teacher’s competency, then the overall quality of the program.

You don’t want a room of new and uneasy parents upon the first meeting.  It’s not the message a preschool professional should convey.  In fact, despite all of the talking points I had, there are three messages parents want to hear.  Hit these three and you’ll start off on the right foot – earning the parent’s and families’ respect and trust.

Understanding

Parents want to know that the preschool staff is understanding; understanding of their family’s culture, child-rearing practices, customs, beliefs, and traditions. Here in San Francisco, there are so many races and languages and family setups, it’s a mistake to use the term “family” to mean an English speaking two-parent household with two or three children. You may not know everything – I sure don’t. However, at the very least, you need to communicate to families that, when they walk into the preschool, they feel welcomed and won’t be judged.

Competence

If a parent is going to leave you with their child, then you better show that parent that you know your child development. Share about your years of experience and any college degrees you’ve acquired. Talk with families about how their child will learn and grow in your classroom. Don’t scare them off with all those acronyms we preschool professionals throw around, but definitely use language that shows you know your early childhood stuff.

Honesty

The is one of the biggest. No one likes a liar or someone who tries to pretend they know something when they obviously don’t. Relationships and trust are built on honesty. You need to convey with every tone and intonation of your voice that their child will be safe and protected in your care. Don’t lie. Speak the truth.

This last one is easy for me… I speak from the heart. I say to parents that your child will learn and grow in this preschool. That the teachers at this school have years of experience, have obtained advanced degrees, and have been trained in the latest research-based practices. That the teachers are delighted to see the children learn new songs, develop social skills, and make friends.  And, at the end of the day, children and teachers are eager to share all of the fun and learning with the parents.  That our preschool is a high-quality program and a safe place to explore, learn and grow.

Yeh, I said that during orientation… from the heart… unscripted.

The Cucumber Rule

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I sat down at the table. It was lunch and, when I looked down at my plate, I lost my appetite.  The children were well aware of the situation, which is why they were smiling. They were anticipating my reaction.

“Boys and girls, you all know that I don’t like cucumbers,” I said.

Oh, they knew.  They also knew the classroom custom of trying all the foods during meals. You have to at least try. Of course, children were never forced, just highly encouraged – or cleverly tricked. Whatever worked.  However, teachers didn’t have the luxury. We had to try the food.  You know, demonstrate to the children.

So I stared at my plate. I wasn’t being dramatic or exaggerating.  I don’t like cucumbers.  I don’t like them in other foods.  I don’t like cucumbers in salads or wraps.  I will never try cucumber water.  I will never like mediterranean food because it seems like every dish is flavored with the vile vegetable.  And, if I mistakingly order a plate that has cucumber in it, I will take the time to diligently pick out each piece.

But, this is not restaurant.  It’s preschool.  No picking.

“Boys and girls, I’m going to eat the cucumber.  I know I don’t like it and I know I don’t like it because I tried it.”  Blah blah blah.  Kiddos knew the drill.  They still smiled.

“But, I’m still going to try,” I said.

And I did.  And then I let the children have it.  I showed them the most disgusted, eye-clenching, mouth puckering face I could muster.  The children giggled.

“And… pew…I still don’t like cucumbers.  Ahhhh!  But I still tried,” I shared as I tried to scrape the taste off my tongue with my teeth. “Where’s the milk?”

Moral of the Story: Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability.  It deepens relationships.

Teachers are not perfect.  We all know that.  But that doesn’t mean we have to show this aura of perfection in front of the children.  I think there is a prevailing mindset that preschool teachers need to be the perfect example: make the right decision and say the right things. Although that may be true, that doesn’t mean that you can’t show your vulnerability or insecurities.

I’ve seen teachers scream over spiders.

I’ve seen teachers groan when they spill paint in their hair.

I groan and whine when there is cucumbers.

There is nothing wrong with showing these feelings.  Absolutely nothing.  It’s a human emotion. It’s normal.  It doesn’t change when you get older.  Children should know that it’s okay to show these feelings.  So, in an effort to be the perfect role-model for our students, I show this side of me: because it’s an opportunity to show children I how handle that emotion.

For teachers that scream over scared spiders, they calm down and ask for help.

For teachers that spill paint in their hair, they show children how to wash it out.

For teachers that are forced fed cucumbers, they show that overcome there fears and take one for the team.

And don’t fake the emotion.  Give children the real thing, not this fake exaggerated stuff.  Giving them the real emotion helps them read the emotions in real life.  Although I put a little theatrics into my reaction to the cucumber taste, my hesitancy, concern, and my quietness is real.

Children like seeing this scared, weak side.  They like to see depth to their teacher’s personality.  Think about it, you know you’ve reached a point in the relationship when children will come to you for help, or when their scared, or when they need comfort.  It’s a sign that says “Teacher, I trust with this side of me because we have a good relationship.”

Guess what, that works in reverse too.

Awkward Moments

One time, I sat during lunch with the children. I sneezed.  I continued eating.  I looked over at my assistant.  She had a horrified expression on her face, then looked away.  Seconds passed and a child eating in front of me said “Teacher, you have a booger here,” pointing to the middle space between my nostrils.  Sure enough, there was a nugget of gold, just hanging out.

One time, I went on a home visit.  I had never been in an Asian family’s home, nor did I know about the custom of removing your shoes as you enter the home.  It’s the first time I would meet the family and child, and the first time they would meet me, their child’s preschool teacher.  On that day, I really wish I had worn better socks – or at least better smelling.

One time, a child had an accident in their cot.  I gathered the blankets and cot sheet and put them in a big black trash bag.  I went out to the hall way, placed the bag in the child’s cubby, and would let the parents know about it during pick-up.  I forgot to tell the parents.  The dirty bag sat there the entire weekend.  On Monday, the dad almost vomited as he walked with the bag back to his car.

One time, during clean-up, I wiped down a table that was full of scrap construction paper and glue.  I threw it all in the trash, then sprayed the table.  A student approached me and, looking at the table, said “Where my picture for mommy?”

Just a few of my awkward teacher moments 🙂

EOY 2013-2014 Speech

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My End of Year Speech for my Preschool’s Parents and Families

Thank you everyone for coming today to our end of year celebration.  Right now, your students and the teachers are preparing their performances for you, but I want to take a moment to recognize the parents and families in the room.

Please raise your hand if you had a new baby come into your family?  Raise your hand if you have a child entering their first year of preschool?  Raise your hand if you have a child entering Kindergarten?  Raise your hand if you have a child who will be here next year?

This year has been all about change.  We’ve had changes in this preschool, changes in our own families, and the changes that come about naturally throughout the school year.  I can speak personally to this, as I recently became a father.  I have great understanding of what everyone here does for their children, but I have a greater appreciation for how parents raise and take care of their children.

Next to me, I have certificates for the parents.  They have been signed by myself and the classroom teachers.  We want to recognize all the parents, by name, for the efforts, the commitment, and energy required to bring their children to school everyday.  These certificates are a small appreciation for what you do.

But, before that, please raise your hand if you’re a grandparent of one our students? Or an aunt and uncle? Or a brother, sister, or cousin?  Or even a family friend.  Although I don’t have a certificate for you, you too deserve recognition.  There is nothing like having the support of family when raising a young child.  You allow these parents to have a date night or a movie night.  You watch their children when they simply need to go grocery shopping or run an errand.  Or maybe, you give the parents time to take time for themselves.  Family and friends makeup the village that raises the child and I wholeheartedly thank you for what you do for these students.

And to the parents, I thank you for everything you did this school year.  You are an invaluable, indispensable commodity to our school.  We want to thank you, even if you we didn’t see you everyday, or not at all.  There are parents who I met for the first time today.  But that doesn’t mean you haven’t played an important part in your child’s life.  You work.  You provide income, working one, two, or even three jobs to support your family.  You put food on the table and clothes on your children’s back.  Our school does not want your efforts to go unnoticed, and please let the certificate you receive today be an acknowledgement of your contributions to your child’s life.

Now, let’s begin with the parents in room 1… 

I’m Not Crying

I looked at him and wondered “Why isn’t he listening?  He should be doing what I say.”  I asked again.

Me: “Can you please sit down?”

Child: “No.  I want go with my friend.”

I was 16 years old, still in high school, and working as an after school tutor.  Although I wondered why a first grader would need homework, I was more consumed with why this child was not listening to an adult (albeit a 16 year-old adult).

Me: “You cannot go over there.  You’re in this group and I need to you sit down.”

Child: (smiling) No.

Me: (head on table, eyes closed)

Why did I want to cry?  Why am I so frustrated?  Why isn’t this little terd listening to me?  I had been asking him for two minutes straight.  Furthermore, the rest of my group watched the verbal showdown.

The lead tutor looked over and read my emotions.  She walked over and asked the child to sit down.  The child did – immediately.

I threw up my hands in frustration, but I resisted the urge to walk out of the room.  I composed myself and continued the lesson.  Did I still want to cry?  My mind was boggled as I replayed the episode and the child’s smile.  To this day, I remember his smile.

He wasn’t smiling because he thought he was funny or comical in his defiance.  He was smiling because he thought it was funny that I was trying to be firm, serious and give him a direction.

Moral of the Story: Teach like you’re Kleenex: soft, but firm.

When I was 16, I had a perspective about small children: they were kind, nice, and would listen to anything I would ask them.  My perception came from my own childhood, but also from the popular belief that small children are innocent and naive.

Obviously, I wasn’t an educator or parent.

I went into tutoring with the perspective that, to be an effective teacher, I would need to be the children’s friend.  If I was their friend, then children would follow my instructions.

Once again, I was 16, not an educator, not a parent.

After a couple of months, I was known as the fun teacher, which only meant that I could bring a smile to the children’s faces. Anytime I tried to be serious with the children or give them a direction, I either got a dumb-founded look or a wry smile.

Is Mr. Cardenas trying to tell us what to do?  Haha, that’s funny.  He’s pretending to be serious. He’s awesome!

Being a friend didn’t make me an effective teacher – at all.  I needed to find a balance in my teaching and it started with my perspective.  Teacher first, not friend.  The change was difficult, because I valued the children’s relationships.  Plus, I was still learning about who I was which, at the time, was a quiet, introverted high school student with a part-time job.

Lots of stuff going on.

I began a journey to discover a balance between being a soft, yet firm educator. During summer school of that same year, I assisted in a fourth grade classroom.  I adopted a new persona: Samuel L. Jackson.

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I made three children cry.  Too far on the teacher tone teeter-tottor.  Over many years, I went back and forth between soft and firm, lenient and strict, forgiving and steadfast.  I found a good balance over the next 4-5 years and I could turn on a dime: fun-loving teacher to giving the straight “teacher look”.  It was magical once I got the groove.

In 2009, when I became a preschool teacher, I didn’t have a fantasy, dreamlike perception about what a 3 and 4 year old child was like.  And I didn’t go in the classroom trying to be their friend.  I was going in as Kleenex.  You know what I found?  Balance is effective.  They followed me as their teacher, yet smiled and had lots of fun.

Two are Greater than One

Have you ever changed a newborn’s diaper in the middle of the night?

For the baby, I would compare their experience to an alien abduction.  Think about it.  You’re fast asleep then, all of a sudden, you’re being lifted in the air.  You feel like you’re flying.  Then, you’re laying down again, but you can feel it’s not your bed.  A blinding light turns on, shining in your face.  You wake up startled and surprised, wondering where you are.  You hear sounds, maybe voices, but their mumbled and unclear.  Then you feel your clothes coming off and their’s a lot of attention on the lower half of your body.

I actually thought about this as I was changing my child.

I figured that is why my son screamed bloody murder every time I changed his diaper at 2am.  He screamed long, hard, and loud.

Not fun at all.

Thank goodness for my wife.  I attributed the screaming to diaper changing, so I made some changes to what I did.  My wife heard about it and made big changes too.  This is what she figured:

  • Keep the lights dim or low, so the baby is not shocked by the light.
  • Shush and coo while changing.
  • When done changing, wait for the baby to calm down before picking up.
  • Have all the lights down and tv off.

I combined her techniques with my techniques: walking, swaying and swaddling.  Since then, the screaming and crying has become less and less.  Now everyone can sleep a little longer. We’re up to 3 and a half hours between feedings!  Woohoo!

Moral of the Story: Two are greater than one.

When I became a preschool teacher, I was immediately put in charge of a classroom with two teacher assistants – both of whom were better and had more experience than me.

Awkward.

I didn’t feel right being the lead.  My supervisor agreed, which is why one of my assistants was the head teacher of the school.

Umm, more awkward?

The head teacher would lead, role-model, then slowly pass along responsibilities to me.  The tactic worked.  After four months, I felt confident in leading the classroom.

However, throughout my four years, I’ve never felt confident that I was the main teacher in the classroom. Sure, I was the decision maker and ultimately responsible for the student’s education, but I wasn’t the only teacher in the classroom.  I only got to work with my head teacher one year, but I’ve been fortunate to work with two great assistants.

I won’t mention their names, but they know who they are.  Let’s see if they read this 🙂

As I continued to teach, I acquired more knowledge from books and websites, but I became a better teacher because of my assistants. I asked them questions and bounced ideas off of them:

What if I were to make a tree in the classroom?

What if I painted the classroom clock in orange tempera paint?

What if I made clouds that went around the classroom?

What if I made a photo wall?

Sometimes, I would get a yes.  Sometimes, I would get pursed lips, then change in topic.  I got the hint.  My idea was too crazy.

However, most of my learning came from just watching what they did: how they handled children, how they spoke, how they taught.  They were teaching the kids and me.  It was like the head teacher never left.  My assistants brought experience, insight, ideas that I didn’t have. I fused my ideas with theirs or vice versa.  They didn’t assist me.  We worked together. We were a team.

So, whenever I introduced my assistant teacher to a visitor, I would say “This is my co-teacher”.