Sunday, August 17, 2008

The First Week

Well, school has started. And can I just say? It's awesome! I was so nervous (see previous post), but after only a few hours with this new group of kids, I know that it will be another fun year. Each and every one of them is wonderful, and I look forward to getting to know them, and their families, this year.

The first week of school has a lot of the same things that happen year after year. There are always accidents, there are always tears (from both the 3 year olds, as well as the grown-ups), there are always spills, there is always a naked child running around, and there are always special "aha" moments. And each year, stuff happens that has never happened before. That's how this job never becomes boring or run of the mill. There is always something different for me to experience.

Every year I get peed on, this year was no exception. The little girl was sitting on my lap, telling me about her play dough creation, when suddenly I felt that familiar warm, damp feeling spreading over my leg.

Me: Honey, you just had an accident, let's go change your clothes.
Her: No, I didn't. (looking slightly offended that I would suggest such a thing)
Me: Yes, you did - look, my leg is wet.
Her: I think you had an accident, and you should go change your clothes.
Me: (thinking to myself - I really need to bring a change of clothes to school)
Her: It's OK, Mrs. V., everyone has accidents
Me: I know, so let's go change you out of your wet clothes
Her: You know, there is a potty right there so you don't have accidents
Me: (choosing my battle) You are right.

Last year, I was puked on. Not just a little bit, but literally from head to toe; I think that little girl puked up an entire week of meals down the front of me - I was covered. My colleague had to hose me down. A little pee on my leg was gravy compared to that.

This year I have a couple of puzzle experts. I hate puzzles, always have. As a preschool teacher, it is the bane of my existence to have to put together puzzles at the end of the day that the kids have left scattered all over the floor. Ack! It takes me forever. And it gives me a headache. And these are just 6 and 8 piece puzzles. It really gets hard when one of those 25 piece puzzles is spread from one end of my classroom to the other. Usually I just throw all the pieces back in the box, and hope all the pieces are there.

I own the fact that I am not a fan of puzzles, and I always share this information with my students. They usually feel sorry for me ("It must make you sad that you can't do puzzles") or slightly embarrassed for me ("All grown-ups can do puzzles, why can't you?"). When a couple of my students dragged out my neat and tidy stack of already put together puzzles, and promptly dumped them all over the place, I said, after mentally sighing that there goes my afternoon, "I am terrible at puzzles, I hope you guys can put these back together", one of the little girls looks up at me and says, "Don't you worry, Mrs. V., I know puzzles." And she did. I am replacing the 8 piece puzzles with the more challenging 25 piece puzzles this week - she informed me that the current puzzles were "incredibly easy" and "not all that fun". She also gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder as she said, "But these puzzles are sometimes a little hard."

Of course, there were spills, although, not as many as in the past. I am big on self reliance, and a skill you learn in my class is how to pour your own juice and water. It is fun to watch the kids navigate the large pitcher (it's actually quite small, but it looks gigantic in the hands of a three year old); they hold it shakily over their cup, and watch in amazement as the liquid goes where it is supposed to (in the cup). And they are so awestruck by their accomplishment, that they just keep pouring and pouring until the cup over flows. And sometimes the phenomenon of juice creating an ever growing puddle in front of them is so cool that they continue to pour. That is why there are always lots of paper towels around. Because everyone spills, it is no big deal, but it has to be cleaned up. This week, when I recited that particular mantra, the reply I got from the puddle (lake) creator was, "Oh, I don't clean up spills; that's my mom's job." To which I replied, "At school, it is your job." She definitely did not like that aspect of the preschool experience.

This year, I found myself in a conversation that I had never experienced before. A little guy walks up to me and asks when I'm going to get out my guitar and play for them. Hmmmm....I don't play guitar (I would like to - I have a guitar - but I never seem to have enough time for lessons. OK - we all know that is a cop out. Anyways...). I tell this inquisitive little guy that I don't play guitar, so I won't be getting it out today. He walks off, seemingly satisfied with my answer. Until five minutes later when he walks up to me again and asks "When are you going to play your really loud guitar and sing for us?" Well, no pressure there. Not only do I need to play guitar, but it needs to be an electric guitar and I have to sing as well. I am currently trying to find myself lessons - I can't let this little guy down. (Hope he will be okay with an acoustic guitar...)

Another first for me this year was the pet unicorn one of my students brought to school. This unicorn, Uni, is rainbow colored, with red legs and pink eyes, and enjoys eating grass on the playground. She also likes the special unicorn apples I keep in my pocket. Uni and I hit it off right away - and her owner was pleased that I understood how special Uni is, and how imporant it is that she has her own place on the carpet. So I could better know what Uni looked like, I asked her owner to paint me a picture of her....

So far, there has been no nakedness...but the year is young.

I started incorporating all the science I learned over the summer into my day this week. Although transitions are a little shaky (how do I get three year olds to move away from the instuments and join me for a science experiment? Still searching for a quick and engaging song....suggestions?) We made necklaces from the UV Beads; and the kids were amazed at their changing color abilities. Two kids figured out right away that the sun was what causing the change. Most of them thought it was magic - which is fine. Because now I am the cool teacher who gives out magic beads. We are continuing our discussion next week. Eventually they will all know that the sun is the real magic and I am not all that magical.

We also did the Bouncing Bubble Experiment, and it was the coolest thing to watch the kids figure out how to blow the bubble, then get it off of the wand and then bounce it. A lot of steps for little ones, and the look of pure amazement on their faces when they figured it out was worth the soapy lake that my classroom became.

This year is going to be great.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

And So We Start Again

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to attend Steve Spangler's Science in the Rockies, an amazing three day conference that taught me how to make science an exciting experience for kids. Check out Steve's website here: Also, to see photos and video of what I, my colleagues and 175 other teachers did, visit here:

Steve Spangler is quite a guy. He has that passion for teaching that those of us who love what we do can relate to. Every aspect of his presentation was how to get the kids involved, and how to make it all about the kids.

Along with obtaining an enormous amount of information about science, Steve said something that really resonated with me. He said that if a teacher isn't nervous about the new school year starting, then it is time for that teacher to retire.

Well, my new school year starts in 10 more sleeps, and I am nervous as all get out. Guess that means I have at least another year in me.

This will be my sixth year doing this, a relatively short time on the one hand, but long enough to have gained some confidence on the other. And I am confident that I have some wonderful things planned (we're talking lots of science, people! Science in preschool - how cool will that be?). I am confident that I am able to talk the language of the three year old, and I am confident that most of the stuff that has been awesome in the past will most likely be awesome this year.

Why am I nervous? What if the class doesn't "gel"? What if my ability to communicate with a three year old suddenly fails with this new group of kids? What if they suddenly realize I am not all that cool? What if they don't think I'm funny? What if they aren't potty trained? What if I suddenly become incontinent? What if more than a couple of them are biters, or spitters, or temper tantrum throwers (I can handle two or three, more than that, I need reinforcements).

I work in a cooperative preschool. This means that the parents are part of the teaching team, they are part of their children's education. At least one parent is in the classroom with me every day. Pretty awesome, but a lot of my nerves come from wondering what the parents are thinking about me.

The first few weeks in my class are chaos. A wonderful, loud, unorganized, chaos. I give the kids time and freedom to explore their classroom. Little by little we get down to business, eventually a routine is achieved, but I leave a lot of that up to the kids. For example, I might have written on my daily schedule 15 minutes for music. But if the kids have found a musical groove, I am not going to cut things short just because time's up.

I am nervous that parents aren't going to get that. That the chaos will drive them nuts. And they won't understand how important it is. I try to give everyone a head's up before school starts, and I hope that each and every parent that walks into my classroom will experience the absolute joy of watching their child learn how to navigate in this new environment.

You know what? I am nervous. But I am also really excited. I absolutely love what I do, and I simply can't wait to get to know my new students, and their families, and have yet another incredible year together. All that other stuff? I can handle it - except maybe the incontinence, but hopefully I have a year or to left before that becomes an issue for me. Maybe when that happens, the nervousness will have worn off and it will be time for me to find a new career. Spokesperson for Depends, perhaps?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mommy, Don't Leave!

Separation anxiety.

I always tell people that my oldest daughter had terrible separation anxiety. That it was hard for her to be away from me. When she started preschool, it was terrible - she would cry and beg me to stay, and I would, sometimes for the whole day.

Looking back, I now think it was me with the separation anxiety. I hated leaving my daughter with anyone that wasn't me - only I knew what was best for my child. No one could possibly understand her as well as I could, and take care of her needs the same way that I could. That list of no one included her father, her grandparents, and pretty much anyone who wasn't me. Obviously, I thought quite highly of myself.

When it was time to start preschool, I had done my homework. I researched (at the library, no less, this was back when AOL was new-fangled) and studied about all the different types of preschools there were - and there were, and are still, many different schools of thought in the preschool world. Montessori, cooperative, Reggio Emilio, Waldorf - yikes! But I studied each one and visited countless preschools. The school I finally chose - where I teach now - offered a warm, loving environment, had a cooperative philosophy, and was highly recommended by not only parenting publications in my area, but other parents. I visited this school a number of times, with my daughter, and felt really good about my decision.

Then why couldn't I leave her? Why did I have to stay with her and hold her hand? Because she was crying, and what kind of mom would I be if I left her when she was crying?

As the time for beginning preschool approached, I had numerous conversations with my daughter about preschool. I talked a lot about how big she was, how she would make lots of friends, how much I would miss her and how I would count the minutes until I came to pick her up. Looking back - I gave a lot a baggage to a three year old; did she really need to feel responsible for me missing her? Or that I would be so lonely I would count minutes until she was back with me again? No wonder she cried, and didn't want me to leave.

And during these crying sessions at drop off, I would hold her and cry too, more often than not. I would tell her that school is really short, and that I would be back real soon. I even promised her I would wait in the car, and wouldn't leave in case she needed me. And believe it or not, I did just that.

So, what did I teach my daughter in those early years? That it was her job to make me happy. That I was not OK when she was at school. That it wasn't OK for her to be away from me, because I was sad. That she should be with me and not at school. That she was responsible for my happiness.

OK, guilt maybe forcing me to lay it on a bit thick, but when I look back to my daughter's first year of preschool, I cringe. Here I was, trying to be perfect Mom, and really, I was not making an important transition in my daughter's life very easy. Hindsight being what it is, I know now that the transition was mine too. I needed to accept that in order for my daughter to be self-confident and self reliant, that I had to allow her to be around another people. I had to trust my decisions, and allow her to venture off on her own. And I had to accept the fact that my way was NOT the only way. As a matter of fact, the more people she was exposed to, the more well-rounded and self-confident she would become.

I am lucky that my daughter's first teacher was a patient and kind woman who had experienced exactly what I was going through. She held my hand, after weeks of my angst, and assured me that if my daughter didn't stop crying in 20 minutes, that she would call me. But she was certain that if I simply said, "Good-bye, I will see you when school is over", and left - the campus - that my daughter would be fine. And eventually the tears would stop, and before I knew it she would run into the classroom without a backwards glance.

And you know what? She was right.