Between the sad little girl looking out the window and the little boy sitting on a time-out chair (who’s name I would learn very quickly that day!) I was hooked.
It was my first day as a preschool teacher at a day care center. I had been privileged to stay home with my own children during their preschool years, then taught at a preschool-only facility for a few years before coming to interview at a day care center. I didn’t know what to expect, but my education about caring for other people’s children in a child care facility began as I interacted with those two children my first day. More than twenty years later, as an administrator, I’m still learning.
In a few weeks time, a “goodby routine” helped Rainie and her mother get the day off to a more pleasant start. Austin was the first of several who could have had their names engraved on a plaque above the time-out chair commemorating their frequent visits. Slowly we encouraged Austin and his cohorts to redirect their energies to avoid “the chair”, while at the same time training staff to stop overusing time-outs. (With better behavior management techniques, the chair sat empty and could finally be re-purposed into more productive space.) Since some of the children spent more hours at the center daily than I did, this job provided new challenges as a preschool teacher, but also more time to spend with the children.
Preschool aged children learn and change so quickly from age three to five, and show great joy in learning – almost as much joy as I had teaching them. Unlike older kids, they are easily impressed. They often told me I was a good singer/dancer/painter/juggler or whatever we were doing at the time. Alas, I barely do these things at a preschool level. I assured them they were also wonderful. When we exercised and stretched our arms “up to the ceiling”, they would tell me I was so tall. “Yes, yes I am,” I would agree, “but you will probably be taller than me some day.” (A safe bet if there ever was one.)
It is hard to narrow down favorite moments from my memories of teaching preschool. A top one would have to be three year old Ben, who paid unusually close attention while I demonstrated the properties of magnets. Before setting the kids loose to explore with them, I ended my demonstration by lifting up a plastic ball magnet with a string of ten other plastic balls suspended in air below it. “So,what do you think is making these plastic balls stick together?”, I asked. Wide-eyed, Ben solemnly replied, “Magic!”. Yes, I had failed to get my lesson on magnets through to him, but at least I got to add magician to my list of talents.
Working in a child care center gives me the opportunity to stay connected with children and their families for many years beyond preschool. Some enter the center as infants or toddlers. Others stay up to age twelve in our after-school or summer programs. Families with more than one child have been a part of our center for over a dozen years before the youngest outgrows us. Some families keep in touch years after leaving, and a few former students have come to work for me in the years I’ve been an administrator. We take great pride in our former students during their successes at local high schools, and beyond, whether they were with us just a few years or most of their childhood.
Shifting to the administrator’s job thirteen years ago was an adjustment for me. Now instead of knowing my classroom full of children well, I get to know over a hundred children, from babies to preteen, a little bit. I still miss the classroom connection at times, but this role allows for more interaction with the parents and staff and that has been rewarding to me in surprising ways. As Administrator, I’m still hooked on child care, and love being able to influence the kind of care our children receive.