May 21, 2024
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Preschool Teachers: Professional Educators in Jean Skirts

An article about preschool teachers? You’ve got to be kidding! Why would anyone want to read about preschool teachers? Those women (have you ever seen a male preschool teacher?) who seem to have wardrobes made up of only jean skirts and long sleeved t-shirts. The ones who supposedly talk in falsetto high pitched voices—all day—while playing…just playing…with little children—all day! Why would anyone want to have a job like that, let alone read about people who have a job like that?

So I have a tough road ahead of me. I have to tell you, with my own words and my shared experiences with my professional peers, why reading about preschool teachers, why knowing what preschool teachers do, and especially why understanding why we are so passionate about our jobs, will enrich you as you read every single word. And why preschool teachers feel deeply gratified with what they do. Hopefully, when you are finished, you will think that your time was well spent.

As much as many children, usually the girls, but a few of the boys when they’re not really thinking, call us Mommy and then giggle at the thought, we are really not “Mommies” in absentia. Even though we probably spend more time during the week with your children than you do, we are acutely aware of our role as “Morot” or “Teachers” compared to your roles as Mommy and Daddy. We have deep respect for how much you mean to your children and when we write or tell you, usually at the end of the year, that we thank you for loaning us your children for the year, we really mean it. As we work and play with your children we form a deep relationship with them and we feel fiercely protective of—and very connected to—the children as the months go by.

We know—and it is our credo—that if something is important to your child, then it is important to us. Period. We know that your child is seeing things that might seem typical to us with wide-eyed wonder. “He” just got a new watch! We understand the feelings behind this new acquisition, and we join him in his pride of being grown up enough to wear a watch (and even be able to read the numbers). In the playground, we hear endless calls of “Look Morah! I can…” “go on the high monkey bars,” “walk across the balance beam,” “climb all the way up”! Do you, dear hopefully still interested reader, think that the children are just trying to show off what they can do? If so, you are probably not a preschool teacher. What we know is that the children want to feel known. They want us to remember that earlier in the year they were scared to climb so high. Or that they spent weeks practicing doing flips on the rings and now they can. So we don’t just say “Wow” and move on with our day. We tell them how strong their arms and legs are getting. How earlier in the year they couldn’t do “that” and now they can. That we know how much they practiced and their perseverance paid off. We look for any way to show and tell them how capable they are and how much more independent they are getting.

But—and this is very important—we never forget that these young children need us to remember that with their newly attained prowess, no matter in what area of their lives, they still need us. They need us to keep moving them forward—in fancy teacher language it’s called scaffolding—but also to be there for them when they go backwards—even for a little bit. They need us to encourage them to keep trying—but to understand that maybe they just can’t do it yet. And really, aren’t we all at least a little bit like that? We might be capable and accomplished and successful, but don’t we all need someone special to be there for us and encourage us even when we haven’t yet met our goals?

And that, readers who have stayed with me, brings me to why preschool teachers love what we do. Because we hold in our hearts the awareness that all people, little people and big people alike, need someone who will stay with them as they move along on their individual journey. And this translates to early childhood educators possessing character traits unique to them: selflessness and giving, delayed gratification and probably most important of all—patience! We are holders of the knowledge that as much as your—our—children want to grow up, they also want and need us by their sides as they do so.

Every day, preschool teachers see this feeling replayed over and over again with “our” children. Yes, they want to walk to the Music Room in front of the Morah, but “can you hold my hand in the hallway?” Yes. “I know how to zipper—but could you start it for me?” Yes. “I want to learn how to read—but I forgot how to write a B.” And the Morah says: “Let’s find it on the ABC chart.” Countless times they push us back and then pull us in. “I want to be grown up. But I need you to help.” We respond to the children in the ways in which they need us to. We get a great deal of gratification participating in the children’s growth. And we know that if we do it right, this little person in front of us will grow up to be the big person who will still need occasional help, but will be equipped to nurture their own little people as well as themselves.

There is so much more that I can write about preschool teachers. About how they know that the children are going to say what’s on their mind—all the time! About how middot are not talked about but modeled every minute of the day. About how teachers are constantly involved in professional development so that they can weave together the time-honored, successful curriculums of the past but learn the new best practices of the present. About how they spend two hours at night preparing a lesson that will last 10 minutes because that is the attention span of a 5-year-old. About how they have to wear the aforementioned jean skirts because on any given day they will be using paint, glue, papier mache, scissors, stampers and Play-Doh because those are the tools of their trade. About how they develop hands-on and concrete lessons to teach the children about Parsha, literacy, math, science and geography. About how they work to give every single child in the class what he or she needs knowing that every child learns differently.

But I won’t go into all that now because after all, who really wants to read an article about preschool teachers? I hope you did.

By Joyce Buckman

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