Recently I spent a week of mornings with a group of four-year-olds. Each morning we played and learned together. Toward the end of the week, a boy (whom I had not met previously) came over to me. "Mr. Scott," he said, "You are the best Mr. Scott ever."
That statement has stuck with me since, echoing in that four-year-old voice inside my head.
Too often, I get caught up in being a teacher in the mold of someone else. I don't decorate my room like _____ or manage my class like _____ or handle things like _____. Do you do this?
But my four-year-old friend reminds me that I need to be the best Mr. Scott, the best teacher that I am. Not like anyone else. I need to keep my expectations on level with my philosophy, my personality, and my priorities.
Sometimes I do the same with preschoolers. I expect them all to act the same way or do the same things. And they don't.
Our education system certainly seems to think that all children learn and grow the same way. Standards seem to expect that they should be able to read or understand numbers at the same rate. But they don't.
The triplets I have in my church kindergarten classroom are all so different from one another. Yes they are all (now) 6. Yes, they are excited to tell me stories and explore whatever things are in the room. Yes, they are all active and moving, as kindergartners are.
But one is very interested in drawing and creating. One explains things to me and tells me logically how and why things are as they are. One enjoys working with others and can tell me the complete names of all the people in his family. They are different heights and wear different sizes of shoes. (I know because they told me.) They are all different with different ideas and abilities and interests. How can I expect these three brothers (and their friends) to respond to school in exactly the same ways and learn at exactly the same rates?
All kids are different. All learn in their own ways and at their own rates. We need to create learning environments (and expectations) accordingly.
So, what does that mean to me as a early childhood teacher?
- I need to understand development and build my expectations on that. I know that 5-year-olds are becoming more interested in letters, words, and numbers. They enjoy playing cooperatively. They want to explore things with their hands. So I need to plan activities that use these interests.
- I need to know that not all kids are interested in reading at the same level. Some are finding letters for their names. Some want to talk about sounds and letters. Some are reading simple words and books alone. Some are only interested in listening to an adult read to them (and then for only a short period of time).
- I need to plan activities that allow all kids to be successful. For example, I can provide dry erase boards and markers for kids to use. Kids who are writing words will enjoy writing them on the boards. Kids who want to practice their names can write that. Kids who are not interested in writing letters will love to draw lines, circles, and pictures. Everyone can be successful at their own interests and capabilities.
- I need to know my kids. If they are really interested in words, I'll provide lots of opportunities for exploring them. If they are less interested, fewer activities will involve reading or letters. My current group enjoys exploring new things; I am always trying new materials or activities to meet their interests.
- I need to offer lots of different types of learning experiences--opportunities for moving and jumping; opportunities for cutting and gluing; opportunites for pretending and socializing; opportunities for constructing and experimenting. All of these will allow kids to be successful and learn in their own ways.
I cannot expect all kids to enjoy the same things. I cannot expect kids to act in the same ways. I can expect all kids to learn and grow, from where they are and in ways they enjoy.