By the time I met two year old "Justin" he had been removed from both two year old classes and a three year old class in our school due to his frequent out burst and disruptive behavior. One late afternoon, the director of our preschool called me into her office and explained to me the more than upsetting circumstances surrounding Justin and his family and asked if I would consider having him join my three year old class.
She told me that his mother was timid and sweet and that his father had a history of arrests for domestic abuse. Being an incredible woman and leader, my preschool director saw our school as a sanctuary for Justin and his three sisters, and she would go any length to keep them in the nurturing, structured environment of our school and after school program.
So, Justin joined my class and I began our new relationship by stepping back and making observations. I observed what interactions allowed him to find contentment and which ones caused him to become upset. I noticed that he played most happily alone, however, whether playing alone or with other children, and without any outward signs of provocation, he could become easily frustrated which caused him to become angry and violent towards toys or others. I observed that when his sisters joined him during the after school program, they would heavily direct how he played and that more times than not he would end their playtime by striking them or throwing toys. In the evening when his mother arrived to take them all home, I noticed that her children would run to her frantically jumping up and down and tugging at her clothing. They would all speak at once, sometimes shoving one another to stand closest to her. Justin would often dissolve into tears and strike her repeatedly on the legs until she picked him up as they all exited the school in a cacophony of tears and demands.
What I most love about the majority of preschool teachers I have known is that they forego judgment of parents in crises for service and encouragement to them.
Because preschool teachers experience many of the challenges along side parents, we are often their closest allies in transforming challenges into triumphs.
To reach my goal of creating a day that would engage, but also not overwhelm Justin I sought out the valued opinions of experienced teachers as well as education from HOPE Family Services, a long standing community source for providing support and services to domestic violence survivors. I poured through my National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) magazines, visited their website (naeyc.org) for related articles, revisited my teacher training materials from the Early Learning Coalition and retrieved one of my favorite resources form the bookshelf: "A Survival Guide For The Preschool Teacher"- by Jean R Feldman, PhD.
Remembering that Justin was many months younger than the other children in my class and that he also needed more structure than the other children, I put him in charge of many, easily accomplished, mini tasks throughout the day. Everyone was encouraged to ring the bell in recognition acts of kindness and cooperation throughout the day. I frequently consulted with the two-year-old teachers to ensure I wasn't overlooking any of the cognitive development markers for two year old Justin since much of focus was centered on his emotional state. During the after school program I made sure playtime with his sisters included games which revolved around collaboration, but could be continued to be enjoyed by a player even if another player walked away. And finally at pick-up time I arranged for his mother to have an empty classroom for two minutes of quality face-to-face alone time with each of her children before she left the school. I found that with these few small steps I was able to create an environment that best served Justin, his sisters and his mother without being any less attentive to the other children and families in my class.
Preschool teachers and parents share a common goal of ensuring that children are reaching their full potential at each developmental milestone. To demonstrate our commitment to that goal we obtain CEU's to support and widen our knowledge of early childhood development, join and participate in professional organizations and attend conferences. We invest in ourselves and other teachers by becoming mentors or reaching out to those we admire to mentor us. And no matter how large or small the space we design our classrooms to ensure little ones reap the maximum benefits from both independent discovery as well as through direct instruction.
Due to the demands of their jobs, some parents may find themselves entrusting preschool teachers to care for their infants starting as early as nine weeks old, for as much as twelve hours a day, five days a week when we include time spent in before and after school programs. Preschool teachers are responsible for a child's safe keeping, nurturing their physical, psychological and social development, but beyond that responsibility are people with loving hearts, nimble minds and creative souls who dedicate themselves to serving children and their families. So while we may work in a industry sometimes labeled "Day Care", please take heart that we take care of the child not the day.
Remember until next time, child development is human development.