You’re a preschool teacher?

Elissa Calvin Articles, Community, InterCulture, Jewish Life, Youth & Family — By on February 14, 2012 5:01 pm

“You’re a preschool teacher?  How sweet!  You get to play with kids all day!”

This is the standard response when asked what we preschool teachers do for work.  But is it accurate?  Sure, there is some playing that happens, but there is so much more than that!  Let me take you on a little journey on just what is it we do all day.

So what do we actually teach, you may wonder?  Sharing and coloring?  I believe that we teach just about everything.  We do help children understand how to share, ask for things in an appropriate way, listen and talk to others, and ask good questions.  We guide children through that tricky terrain of relationships and friendships, and help them understand that just because they are mad at someone, doesn’t mean they can’t be friends.  Preschool teachers help children learn to work independently and collaborate in a group.  You can consider us guides for new humans.

Whatever age we work with, we are all art teachers.  And that means much more than just coloring.  Artistic expression through a large variety of techniques and mediums is a daily part of preschool life here at the JCCSF’s preschool programs.  On any given day, you may see in a class painting at easels, making collages from paper, drawing with chalk on the playground floor, making robots out of  recycled materials, hammering away at a woodworking station (wearing goggles, of course), making their own paper, creating African inspired masks from clay, or printmaking.  Children are far more capable of working with what we consider “adult” materials than we think they are.  When the teachers help the children  understand and respect these materials, what the children can create is astounding.

Our preschool does not teach math and reading in the sense that you may think, with worksheets and posters of the alphabet and numbers on the wall, but in fact those basics are covered every day.  Two year-olds carefully measure and scoop out flour for challah bread.  In the courtyard, a mixed age group of children are engaged at the water station, learning about properties such as density and volume through their play.  The children in the transitional kindergarten write the date in their journals and ask the teacher to write a word they want to learn, such as “Spiderman,” “Mommy,” or “Fairies.”

Every single teacher at our preschool could be considered an ecologist, though few of us studied it in school.  We pride ourselves in the daily practice of Tikkun Olam or Repair of the World by finding ways to help the earth every day.  Every single classroom composts and recycles, and the children can be about quite adamant about making sure waste items go in the correct bin.  These are the things that will stick with the children throughout their entire lives, helping make our Earth a healthier one for hopefully a long time.

Do you enjoy science and research?  A preschool teacher is involved in scientific study every day.  Investigating, experimenting, and quite literally getting your hands messy is a substantial part of what we do.  Did you know that the simple combo of corn starch and water makes this bizarre compound that is alternatively solid, crumbly, and gooey at once?  The children do.  A child’s boundless enthusiasm and quest to know can cause projects to go on for weeks, months, and occasionally span years.  We teachers also must have the patience to deal with the barrage of “why” and “how” questions–and the ability to pause before answering and ask right back, “Well, how do YOU think it works?”

Working in such intimate proximity with children, families, and each other requires a great deal of emotional stamina.  There is no such thing as a “normal” day or a day you can just coast through with feelings turned off.  We absolutely have to be here every day for the children, every day.   While our work is incredibly rewarding, it can be exhausting too.  A weekend spent at the spa, the beach, or relaxing with friends does not hurt.  We are human after all.

During the course of the day, we may find ourselves in many different roles as well as that of teacher.  We are song leaders, dishwashers, cooks, and experts in spill eradication.  You may find us moving heavy furniture, fixing a printer, or unclogging a toilet.  We are renowned bakers of Challah bread every Friday, and of many other yummy items as well.  While none of us may have a medical degree, we are all trained in first aid and CPR, and have a knack for remedying many a “boo boo.”  We each excel at communicating a child’s development at all stages to parents and what transpired during a child’s week through writing, words, and pictures.

Above all, we are learners too.  Over time we may become highly respected educators, but that does not mean we think we are the best.  We continually are learning more about our work by taking classes, attending lectures and seminars, reading books and articles, and studying and observing the children with whom we work.  And every single day we learn something new.

So do we “just play with children all day?”  I say with pride that we in fact do spend some time playing with the children.  And that is perhaps the most important thing we do of all.  You will see teachers sitting on the floor with the children creating new architectural styles with wooden blocks, on the play yard pitching for a baseball game, or in the dramatic play area dressed as a firefighter.  For play is “the work of the children,” and the teachers know this.  The reason every one of us can read, write, balance our checkbook, go to work, sing a song, shoot a ball in a basket, and every thing else we do is because a teacher played with you and without you knowing, helped you learn many, many other things.

We do play with children, but there is much more that we do, and so much more that we are.  The next time you walk by a preschool classroom, take a closer look at what you see.  What may look like just playing, an art class, music, or circle time, actually has many more dimensions to it.  In fact, please do come take a look!  We would love to show you what we do all day.


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  1. Mikhail Bennett says:

    I used to be a pre-school teacher at the J in the 1970’s [yikes!]. Seeing these pix leads me to recall what a blast it is working and just spending time with the little ones. I certainly learned as much from them as I taught.

    Do you need volunteers to work at the pre-school? I would truly enjoy spending a few hours a week getting back to where I once belonged.

    Mikhail B.

  2. Evelyn Seymour says:

    I respect what your teachers have done for my grandson. He has no siblings and so loves his friends at school like brothers and sisters. You are creative and kind teaching through every event. I am a teacher and know that your work with very young children makes a difference for a lifetime. Thanks for every hour of hard work you put into these lives.

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