Sunday, January 23, 2011

The truest, hardest part

Plato said "you can learn more about a person from an hour of play than in a year of conversation." If this is true, then, (besides parents), who knows a preschooler better than their teacher?
The fact of the matter is that teachers who work with children under the age of 5 are parents in microcosm, (or at the very least like a pseudo Aunt or Uncle).  No, these children are not our own flesh and blood, we don't tuck them in at night, we don't get to watch them grow up, we don't have to provide for them. Teachers become immune to puppy dog eyes, alligator tears, and adorable pleas for nonsense things, unlike most parents.  However, for a good preschool teacher, most of your life revolves around these kids.  I see most of these kids (during awake hours) 6-7 hours a day, for more than 250 days a year, (Monday- Friday, September through September).  I know all of their interests, I know all about their family, I know what they are afraid of, what makes them sad, what makes them happy, what foods they like and what foods they don't, what they are allergic to, who their best friend is and when they switch best friends.  I know these children more deeply than I know some of my own friends, because preschoolers aren't guarded and don't keep secrets the way adults do.  I plan my lessons based on their passions, and our days around their interests.  I can tell by the way a child enters the room how their day is so far, and I can tell when something is wrong.  I know when a child hates all red fruits and vegetables.  Children tell me when they are worried because Mommy is getting married. They tell me when Mommy and Daddy are fighting. They tell me about being shuffled back and forth between parents (foster and biological, divorced moms and dads). They tell me when they fight with their sister. They tell me when they have a bad dream.  They tell me about all of their amazing adventures with their parents, and about playing tea with their sister in the living room. I know what makes each child laugh when they are sad, when they need a hug, and when they need to be left alone.
The hard part of being a teacher is that these little bodies become your friends and your family.  You know them for a whole year and see them more than 2000 hours a year.  They have wiped their noses on you, cried on your shoulder, drooled on your leg, accidentally spit food on your face, sometimes hit you, sometimes kicked you,  thrown up on you, and you love them all unconditionally. 
Some children I connect with the moment I meet them, others it takes a few weeks to fully connect with them, still others a few months, but I have never had a child in my class that I didn't connect with, and never had a child that I wasn't sad to see go. Like I said, this is the hardest part of being a teacher. 
Every year you fall in love with the kids, and you fall in love with your class.  There are a few that you get the privilege of seeing after they leave your class, or even more rare that you get to stay a part of their life; but most of the time, these precious little beings that you have centered a year of your life around, just leave.  That's it. 
I had a child leave my class the other day, to go to a school closer to home, in his own school district.  It is the same whenever a child leaves my class, no matter why, and no matter when; At the same time it is different whenever a child leaves my class because my relationship with each child is different, because each child is different, precious, and special. 
When they leave, I have to smile, wish them the best, be excited for them, and help them to be excited for this next, new part of their life because if we do anything else we are not serving that child well.  I want to be sad, I want to tell them that I will miss them horribly, (because I will), and that I will remember them forever (because I will), but what I say is "I will miss you, but I am glad you are excited for your new school, I hope you will love it," because this isn't about me, and it never was.  This is about them, and it always was.  They might remember me, and they might not, but they were my "friends" and my students, and I will always remember them, and hope that each one has a great life.  
I am convinced that real teachers don't choose their profession, in fact many of them might try to avoid it, but it chooses them, because bringing love to a classroom is not something that can be learned.  I know going back on Monday, that everything will be the same, but I will still notice the child's absence a few times each day, as will the other children, who will ask for reminders of where he is and why he isn't "here." They won't be "sad" but they will miss his presence and sometimes it takes months for their little minds to not calculate his absence as not being out of place, (where as for adults, it only takes a few days, but the feelings are the same).

I leave you with a quote from "Children of Eden," by Stephen Schwartz:  "... but the hardest part of love... the truest part of love... is the letting go."
*please note: I am not advocating that teachers act like parents, or are parents, or try to "replace parents."  Parents are parents and teachers are teachers and any good teacher knows the boundaries and does not cross them.  In the early years, children really come to depend on their teacher and develop a more close- knit relationship with them than teachers of school- age children.  This being said, a good teacher brings love to their classroom with only appropriate emotional ties and attachments, and NEVER develops an attachment that would make it difficult for the child to move on, or that would effect the teachers effectiveness or demeanor in the classroom.


  1. well said! I still remember the children from my first year of teaching...10 years ago...and wonder where they are and how they are doing! (especially certain ones that I worried about the most) With our preschool children we often have them in our classroom for 2 or even 3 years! It is impossible not to have mixed emotions as they move on...even though you know it is a GOOD thing!

  2. That was absolutely beautiful. I'm so touched by this blog entry. Thank you, Elizabeth. You are incredible, and the life of each child in your care is better for having you as a teacher and friend.

  3. Your blog entry is exactly why I decided to go into the field of teaching. There are so many underlying benefits of teaching that nobody can take away from you. There will be some ups and downs, but if I improve one child's life than i have done my job. Thank you for such an honest, heartfelt entry.