Yesterday, our school had its annual Family Picnic at a local summer camp up in the hills. While there, my teacher friend Miss Shelby (whose head is shaped like a shell) and I managed to hitchhike down a mountain, practice archery for the first time, and watch a bunch of children in cowboy hats and bandanas shovel cupcakes into their mouths. It was, altogether, a successful, bizarre, adorable day.
In addition, I had a conversation with a parent that made me realize just how much I love teaching – and, more specifically, how much I love teaching kids who are five.
I think it goes without saying that people underestimate teachers. After all, those who cannot do, teach, right? In addition, just the sheer fact that we’ve chosen a profession that has zero promise of huge economic prospects makes us pretty rare creatures in a city like Los Angeles. Also also, I currently teach at a preschool, which is, to most people, the equivalent of glorified babysitting (this just in: it’s not). I have a friend (who may or may not have a shell-shaped head) who has been told to her face that she is so good at her job, she really should be a “real teacher.” Ouchies.
Despite all that baggage, I adore pre-K and kindergarten. There is something magical about teaching children when they are fully formed personalities, and yet before they learn to filter in order to fit in. I like to think that by modeling creativity and empathy and independence and individuality, we’re helping to guard them against the need to change or the anxiety to be the same as everyone else. Even just a little. I believe that showing them that all worlds are open to them sets them up to be good, curious, expansive learners for their entire lives.
Yesterday, as I was heading over to the archery station (where I totally kicked ass my very first time, by the way), a father pulled me aside to thank me for being his daughter’s “grandparent” during Grandparents’ Day at the school on Friday. His daughter was the only student in our class who didn’t have a grandparent (or “special friend”) at school for the day and I told her not to worry – we would do all the activities together so that she wouldn’t be alone. I skipped my lunch break (because I hadn’t brought food anyway), and we painted and journaled and had snack and ran around like crazies and talked to all the other grandparents. She had a blast and was absolutely thrilled that she had a teacher as a special friend (and I got to paint and laugh and eat bite-size brownies for lunch).
Her dad told me that she could not stop talking about Grandparents’ Day when she got home. He thanked me for making her feel included on a day when she could have easily felt excluded. He told me that his daughter’s only grandmother had lived with them until her recent death, which had been hard, and he was shocked when I told him I hadn’t known. He thanked me for making an effort, despite not knowing their unique situation.
And that is why I do this job. Because every child, every day, all over the world, has very basic requirements for success and happiness: food, water, nurture. Every child needs (and, quite frankly, deserves) to feel supported and cared about and important, regardless of their individual experiences. This seemingly small thing I’d done, choosing to be a good kind person to a little girl when she needed it, made a tremendous impact on her, in ways I anticipated (i.e. she was not alone and disappointed on a day that should have been exciting) and in ways I could not have known about (i.e. the death of her live-in grandmother).
Beneath the literacy and math and science skills we are teaching, we are always, always, always modeling kindness and generosity and humanity. There is nothing in the world more important to me than being tasked with that responsibility.
I guess what I’m saying is: I dare you to tell me to go get a real teaching job.