I usually wait until about three weeks before school to do home visits. That is probably too late for many teachers, but I usually don’t have a completed list of students until around then, and I’m also a bit of a procrastinator. Something I have found very useful is to send out postcards telling children & families that I will be calling to schedule a time to meet. I address the postcard to the child (they love that) and print a little photo of myself on it as well. That way they’ve seen me, and are excited to meet their teacher.
Hello. My name is Lauren Sommerer and I teach preschool at St. John Child Development Center. I am here to talk about being positive. That may sound silly, since by the nature of your jobs you are all surely positive people, but it’s something that I feel strongly about. If I knew as a starting teacher what I know now, the first few years wouldn’t have been so rough. When we have had student teachers in our classroom, they often comment on how we have created a very positive environment, and that we should share that. So here goes.
When I first began teaching preschool, the days were very tough, and I told my aide that I was praying for patience. She said, “Don’t pray for that – God will just give you lots of chances to practice.” She was right. I now consider myself to be a very patient person – (outwardly, at least).
It’s about being professional. It’s perfectly natural to be frustrated and mad. I am mad at least 30% of the time, but I get into Frontal Lobe*** mode and show love and respect to the children – especially when dealing with a particularly frustrating situation. There is a quote from Beverly Cleary’s book, Ramona the Brave: “Ramona dreaded school because she felt Mrs. Griggs did not like her, and she did not enjoy spending the whole day in a room with someone who did not like her, especially when that person was in charge.”
This talk will be divided into two parts: Teacher Tips and Child Scripts.
Teacher Tips 1 – Quotes
Quotes that stick with me throughout the day:
(Regarding the emotional environment.) “You set the tone.” – From the t.v. show E.R. ( This quote was handed down from various doctors as they left and passed the torch to the next in charge.) The day will follow your mood. If you act cranky, you’re going to get a room full of cranky and sulky right back. If you put a smile on your face and in your voice, you’ll help lead the children. Even if you’re in a bad mood – especially if you’re in a bad mood! Slap a smile on! BE EXCITED!
(Regarding the teacher’s relationship wth the children.) “I am kind, but extremely firm.” – Mary Poppins. That’s what I strive for – I’m positive and patient, but I’m also no doormat. We have rules and procedures in our room, and we abide by them, but we do it in an easy and thoughtful way.
(Regarding each child.) “I like you just the way you are.” – Mister Rogers. (Also the big romantic quote in Bridget Jones’ Diary – “I like you just as you are.” Isn’t that how God loves us, too? Warts and all, He loves us sinful creatures just as we are! Every child deserves that from their teacher. (Especially the ‘difficult’ children. Love is a decided-upon action – love them.)
(Regarding each child.)“Norm!” – From the t.v. show Cheers. The people in the bar were always excited when Norm arrived. Now the day was complete. I want every child to feel that when they walk in the door. We greet them variations of that – “Paige is here!” “Hi, Amber!” “Alright, Tayte’s here!” One of the best pieces of advice I heard to parents was, “Does your child feel that your eyes light up when they walk into the room?” That’s the feeling I want them to have – school is fun! We’re thrilled that you’re here!
(Regarding each child.)“Jesus loves you as much – if not more – than me.” – also me. These children in my care are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I owe them the love and kindness that everyone deserves. I also have to say that teaching preschool gives me a little insight about what God must feel. Do you think he just shakes his head sometimes and says, “You guys just don’t get it now, but someday you will.” And he NEVER gives up on us!
(Regarding every situation.) “Put the best construction on everything.” -Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment. Keep this in your heart at all times. Give children the benefit of the doubt. No preschool child is actually trying to drive you crazy. They just need help practicing their good manners. Which brings me to:
(Regarding the repetitiveness of the days.) “I will do laundry until the day I die.” – Lauren Sommerer. I remember when I would finish doing the week’s laundry, there was such a sense of accomplishment! Then after a week – there was more laundry! I would get mad and actually feel a sense of betrayal. Then came the day when I realized that laundry never ends – you will always have another load to do. Embracing that set me free. In the classroom, I used to get so frustrated when I would be saying the same things over and over and over and over to the children, year after year. Like the laundry, I came to understand that they are NOT going to get it now. They will forever need a reminder to get a tissue, to use their nice hands and nice words, to please put their hands in their laps. They are practicing these skills, and I will always be there to remind them. It’s just the way it is, and now I embrace it!
Teacher Tips 2 – Be the chatter!
I now can fully embrace, understand and practice the ‘catch them being good’ idea. Children will rise to the occasion if you state your expectations and praise them immediately when they meet them! When we clean up the room, I tell them, “Let’s do our most careful/quiet job, ok?” Then I point out who’s doing a great job, “Mya’s being careful! Thanks, Mya! Parker’s doing his best – thanks, Parker!” Praise them!
When you notice something a child has done well, identify it. It helps them in so many ways – they recall what they did, the other children hear (out loud) that it was the right thing to do, and they feel pride. “Reece, you cleaned up the bears without anyone asking you to do it! That was so responsible! Thanks!” Give a thumbs up or high-five. Create that environment of teamwork and celebration. Be their cheerleader! Create an ‘Air of Success’! Praise them, Praise them! “Thanks! You’re a great helper.” (It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
Be the example of good manners. If you make smiles, ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘you’re welcome’, ‘excuse me’ part of your everyday conversation, the children will be able to emulate you.
Teacher Tips 3 – Discipline
Your voice is everything. I never wanted to be a teacher who shouted. If you shout all the time, your shout is useless. Same thing if you crab all the time. You have to think all the time about what you’re going to say and how to say it. This will get easier with practice, trust me. If a child is misbehaving after several reminders, think ‘Lower and Slower, not Louder“. Speak right to their eyes, and lower your voice. Speak distinctly and firmly, but kindly. (Think about how to say ‘Sit down’ in different voices – invitingly, scornfully, sadly, angrily, then firmly and kindly. Tone is everything!)
*** Frontal Lobe Mode – This is a whole workshop on it’s own. What it boils down to is: In a stressful, emotional situation, people tend to use the ‘animal’ part of their brain – the Fight or Flight part. Child are in this part of their brains when having a meltdown. You cannot do that. You have to stay rational and use your Frontal Lobe – the part of your brain that thinks things through and doesn’t snap at children. Be the adult. Be calm. Be the voice of reason. This is why practice makes perfect!
When there’s trouble, Keep it Short and Engage Their Brains. Again, this is a workshop of it’s own. There are ‘levels’ of disobedience, and you have to use good judgment about how to react. Remember, your job is to help them practice good manners. “Bad behavior is a result of a lack of skills.” – Fred Rogers. (I may be remembering that wrong.) Be interactive, rather than having to intervene so much – help them practice these skills.
“Casey, is that a good choice?” “What will happen if you crash that car?” “What will happen if you hold the book just by it’s cover?” (‘It will tear.’ ‘I don’t want that to happen, do you?’ ‘No.’ ‘Please hold it carefully.’) Engage them in the process of solving the problem. ASK – What will happen? Another way to ask is, “Tell me why that is a bad idea.” Keep kindness in your voice, but help them process through why the rule is there. Instead of flatly stating something, ask it with support in your voice. Instead of “Criss-cross your legs” in a gruff tone, you could ask, “Are you criss-cross?” They will do it right away, and it gives them the chance to answer ‘Yes’. Then you praise them! Great job!
Another way to keep yourself calm when you have just witnessed something is to describe it – calmly and without emotion. (Of course, getting down on the child’s level is just assumed for every time you speak with them.) “Austin, this is what I just saw: Hunter grabbed your puzzle and you knocked him down.” Pause for a moment. You get a chance to take a breath, and the child gets to say their piece. I often take these steps: Describe the action/Was that ok?/Why not?/What should you have done?/What can you do now to make it better? The routine of that engages the child in the thought process of their actions, and keeps me calm, as well.
When it’s serious enough to require time out, keep your words brief. “I asked you three times to stop crashing. Time out.” / “No hitting. Time out.” Come back after a short time and briefly reveiw what happened. “Why did you have time out?” ” I crashed.” “Is that ok?” If you need to say something like, “Cars are not for crashing,” have them repeat it back. “Now what did I say?” It’s the same routine from above, except that you have the child describe what happened. Keep the short so they stay with you. Don’t forget your tone!
Teacher Tips 4 – There’s a ‘yes’ in there somewhere.
Tone Tone Tone Tone Tone
Here are some examples of two responses to situations, the first being negative, the second positive.
“Can I get a drink of water?” 1 “Not, now it’s storytime.” 2 “Yes, after storytime.”
Poking someone. 1 “Stop poking.” 2 “Hunter, does he like that?”
Picking nose. 1 “Gross! Don’t do that!” (I do say that sometimes.) 2 “Is that the best place for your finger? No. Please get a tissue.”
Goofing around at mealtime. 1 “Stop fidgeting and sit still.” 2 “Boone, do your best.”
You have to think before you say it, and it takes practice! After a while it becomes second nature.
Phrases we say (and have posted). Nice Hands, Nice Words. Do your best. Love each other. Be kind. Thank you. Please. I’m sorry. Excuse me. Good job. Big kids help little kids. Please stop.
Children have to be given the tools to be successful socially. They hit* (squirm/eat with their fingers/ say mean words/ pick their noses) because they don’t know any better. They will continue to hit* as you help them to know better. Someday they will stop hitting* because you were someone who taught them better. “When you know better, you do better.”
We practice these things daily. The first week or two of school are dedicated to just learning the routine of school, and we learn these phrases:
If someone is bothering you, say “Please stop”.
If someone asks you to stop, stop.
If someone has a toy that you want, say “Can I please have that next?” (‘Next’ is key! Nobody wants a toy when they’re finished with it. That phrase alone has saved me hundreds of dollars in Tylenol.)
If someone asks if they can play, the answer is always ‘yes’. (I know that there are times when children need to be alone, but those are few and far between, and the teacher can help identify those times. This prevents children from excluding others, and helps build a sense of community and sharing.)
Our class rules are very simple: Nice Hands, Nice Words. Listen to the Teachers. Put toys away when you’re done.
We encourage nice manners. When a child says, “I’m thirsty” I might (jokingly, not condescendingly) ask, “Did you want to ask me something?” They will respond with “Can I please get a drink?” “Of course! I love your nice words!”
“Look at my/his/her eyes.” Since I’m going deaf in one ear, it is imperative that children face me when they speak. It is also just plain old good manners. We practice looking at the person we’re speaking to.
My final bit of advice is, be careful and thoughtful about how you speak about your children with other adults. If you gripe and point out all the things that go wrong, that is where your focus will be. Surround yourself with positive people who will help you find the great things that happen and celebrate them with you. Yes, we have to complain sometimes, but be sure to find the silver lining in every bad situation and say it out loud!
Teaching young children is hard work. To people who have a rather pooh-pooh attitude toward preschool, I want to ask, “Could you do it? Could you be in a room with 20 young children and keep them engaged and productive while still staying sane?” This job takes stamina! It is very easy to become weary and frustrated, so it takes daily – even hourly – ???? practice??? to stay at the top of your game. My hats are off to you, everyone. Go out and be positive!