The art of becoming the teacher you want to be

15th March, 2024

Written by Christine Burkholder

ECE Environments Author and Mentor
Did you ever look back at an old photo and shake your head and think, “ what in the world was I thinking?”
In our defense, we were on vacation, but I wonder if there might have been a different way to do some things? This makes me think about some of the things that I used to do as a new teacher.

This is what happened to me in my early childhood career. When I look back at my time as a preschool teacher, I wince when I think of how things were done. I graduated from college and was eager to work with children and become THE “Teacher”. I applied everything I had learned and thought I did a great job. I was mentored by other teachers but as I look back I wonder "what were we thinking?” Did we really do things a certain way just because it was always done that way?

Many of the teaching styles were designed to make the group care and teachers' lives a bit easier.

The evolution of a teacher

Way back in the day, we used to start our day of "real” learning at exactly 9:00 am.  Now, usually the children were deeply engaged in playing and building by this time of day.  They had been there for over and hour and had chosen an activity in the room to do.  We would ring our bell (because “real school” was about to start, and all schools should start with a bell).  We would then ask all the children to clean up their projects that they were working on and put everything away because it was, of course, 9:00am, the time the real day must begin.  There were always lots of protests from the children because they didn't want to tear down the block structures they have been deeply engaged with building all morning, or to stop painting a picture of their family, but of course the real school day needed to start at exactly 9:00am or something would happen. (I am not sure what).

We would then ask all the children to sit down on the floor in a big circle and we would talk to them (they of course, must remain silent and listen to the ” teacher" talk).  All the children would sit “Indian style” or when someone pointed out that this might be offensive to the Indigenous population, we called it “criss cross applesauce” I really have no idea why.

We would point to a calendar and talk about the time, day, month and week.  The children would recite and repeat these with us, sometimes in a song version.  Now, think about this, what is the point?  Why did the children need to know this and can the children really understand the concept of time?  Should we have been teaching the theory of relativity at age four?  We would discuss the weather, and sing our ABCs in English and Spanish.

Sometimes these circle times would last for 45 minutes.  We did this in the name of getting these kids ready for the real, REAL school they would be going to in the next few years because after all, they need to learn to listen.  When a child was unable to sit and listen during this time, we would ask them to sit in a chair at the table outside of the inner circle.  This usually resulted in a tipped chair and maybe some real protests and sometimes the director needed to be called.  Still, we did this routine each and every day, usually the same way because after all, it was a routine, and routines are important right?

I remember a teacher I worked with as always policing children moving materials between learning centers.  This was strictly forbidden, getting frustrated when the kids would take toys and co-mingle them.  If someone took blocks to the dramatic play area this became a problem on par with a national emergency! Why? Again, I am not sure.

What. Were. We. Thinking?

  • What if “teacher” meant giving the classroom and the teaching back to the children?
  • What if “teacher" meant more listening and less talking?
  • What if “teacher” meant that we were supporters of children, curators of the environment and researchers? Let's imagine.
  • What if children were permitted to continue their play until they were ready to move on to the next event?  They could just be in charge of cleaning up their space and move along to their next adventure without the clock?

Circle time re-imagined

What if there was no circle time?
It just went away, puff!
  • No mandatory time to sit and recite, chant and listen to an adult tell the children something they want to talk about?
  • What if there was a collaboration table that whoever wants to talk about something could sit around it and talk?
  • What if the children led the talking?
  • What if children could bring in something that means something to them and talk about it, maybe the whole class could research it and ask questions, then find answers?
  • What if the children took their own attendance when they entered the room?

One thing that I have noticed is that children all seem to join in and are engaged in show and tell days. I believe this is because they are in charge of the topic and want to listen and share.

  • What if the children took their own attendance when they entered the room?
  • What if they chose their own breakfast off a tray and sat down at a chair they chose and ate something from a tray with several choices?
  • What if they chose what they would like to do from a provocation that was prepared based on their interests each day?
  • What if there were no assigned seating and children had the ability to sit where they choose and even move the furniture around if they choose?

What if they chose to build in the construction area AND they could keep their building up and continue it when they came back to the area? AND they had the option of using some scarves in their building that were taken from the dramatic play area? GASP!

How do you become the best teacher you can be?

  • What if you could do more than imagine?
  • What if this could become a reality?
  • What if the children were seen just as they are as capable beings with choices and were empowered to interact in their space?
  • What if you didn't have to imagine? 
  • What if this could become a reality?

I wonder if there might be a different way to do some things?

What are you thinking?

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