Tuesday, December 21, 2010

No, it's real teaching

I had an interesting conversation today in the hallway with a parent. His son is in the Kindergarten class in which I interned in the fall, and the whole family had been a delight to know. I told him the happy news that I am now teaching Pre-Kindergarten just down the hall from his son's class.

His reaction was not what I expected. "Oh," he said, with a look of commiseration on his face, "well, I'm sure it's just a foot in the door, and they'll move you up to Kindergarten soon."

I was pretty stunned. Since then, I have thought of perhaps a dozen or more things I would say, but in the moment I had children to attend to, so I merely said, "No, it's real teaching. It's a good thing."

Now, I know perfectly well that early childhood educators have an image problem. But it still stopped me in my tracks to see his look of disappointment on my behalf. The idea that those who teach preschool are teachers who aren't quite ready for prime time sounds ludicrous to me, but it's a perception that's alive and well out there.

If I had a moment more to talk with him and formulate my thoughts, I would have talked about the crucial importance of the four-year-old year. I would have mentioned neuroplasticity. I would have sited studies on the life-long value of a quality preschool experience. I would have told him that it's not just real teaching, but that it's real learning, too. I would have told him that I'm exactly where I want to be, that I will have a life-time supply of intellectually stimulating challenges in this environment, and that I can well imagine teaching Pre-Kindergarten for the rest of my life.

I'll have my one-minute speech on the value of early childhood education better prepared next time. One parent educated, a few million more to go.


  1. I had a conversation with a university professor (in an education department) about placing interns in our Head Start classes. We have 3 wonderful Head Start teachers and I think interns would learn a lot there. Her reaction was similar to this parents. I was quite shocked and did not have a good response ready. I will the next time I'm in that situation.

    I often have a sense that we respect college professors the most, high school teachers are next, then middle school, then elementary. The younger the kids the easier the job is perceived to be. How woefully wrong that is!

  2. I agree Jenny and Launa - it is real teaching. I paid good money for my Masters in ECE and still am learning how to be competent in such a dynamic field!

    What an interesting response by this parent - perhaps the response could have been - "well your child was a "real learner in pre-k and that must make me a real teacher too:)"

  3. This reminds me of a conversation I had with someone who was dismissive of everything in the phase of life before age 5, stuff that you'll "never remember" later. These sad assumptions really impoverish the person making them, whereas you are just moving forward valuing what you value, that which is invisible and hard to measure.

    Over-valuing the left brain, quantitative mind, the rational and achievement/measurement oriented system is its own reward/punishment. Anyway, keep on keeping on, it's hard work going against the stream.

  4. You could explain that your job is teaching and nurturing people with genius level creativity (point them towards Sir Ken Robinson's talk here: http://sirkenrobinson.com/skr/rsa-animate-changing-education-paradigms) and that young children are whole people just like adults and both are still working out how to do things.

    Pre-school teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world - being totally engaged with young creative minds that have latent skills and being insightful enough to see those interests and skills and bringing them out gently. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but ... I'm kinda speechless at that attitude.

    - Ian

  5. Deborah,

    Your post hit close to home for me. I've got to hand it to you for responding with such grace. All I can say is Yes! You are engaged in "real teaching" and the children you work with are engaged in "real learning." I, for one, appreciate and applaud you for the important work you are doing, as well as for helping to raise awareness among those that don't yet know or understand. I have never responded on someone else's blog by posting a link to my own, but in this case I'm going to make an exception, and hope you'll forgive me, because I wrote a post about a similar experience, and the exact same subject, just a few weeks ago, except in my case, I was writing about my work with babies and toddlers: http://bit.ly/eFJo70. I dream of a world and a time when everyone understands the importance of the early years as prime learning years, and those who care for, work with, and are teachers of young children receive the recognition and respect they deserve for the invaluable work they do.

  6. Hi Launa,

    I apologize for addressing my reply to Deborah!
    I was thinking of Deborah of Teach Preschool, because I found out about you, and your site through Deborah when she tweeted your post a few days ago. Anyway, my sentiments remain the same, and I'm happy to have found your blog, and look forward to reading more!

  7. Lisa, I'm honored to be confused with Deborah! She's an educator hero of mine!