Do you have to go to college for that?

October 7, 2015

Editors Note: This is a guest blog from Suzanne Farmer, NBCT and director of the Kentucky Network to Transform Teaching. The views expressed are her own.

Teachers have all heard the old dig, “Those who can — do, and those who can’t — teach.” But it gets worse. “Those who can’t even do that, teach preschool.” As an early childhood educator, others perceive my work as that of an overpaid caregiver. I’m admired for my patience as I wipe noses, comfort criers, and tie shoes and not for my ability to teach kids to care for themselves and each other, and to begin their journey as readers, mathematicians, and creative thinkers.

During a home visit, a parent said, “I think I might want to teach preschool. Do you have to go to college to do that?” Would she have asked that of any other teacher?

Teaching preschool is hard work. Learning in a carefully constructed preschool environment is supported through social skill instruction and thoughtful routines to encourage student planning, reflection, and celebrations.

Wipe noses? Yes. Tie shoes. Every day. But we also establish routines where students:

  • are held accountable for signing-in to take attendance, pass and serve food using manners at family-style meals, hold the door for others when leaving the classroom, remind people it’s almost time to transition, and pitch in to clean up together.
  • celebrate milestones as they’re accomplished and setting goals for next steps.
  • have a voice in making decisions about their learning, which they are supported to communicate to their families.
  • resolve conflicts and talk about hurt feelings with each other.
  • make plans about the choices they want to make, stick with plans and make adjustments and revisions, and reflect and communicate on the work they’ve accomplished

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards states: Accomplished (early childhood) teachers nurture young children’s curiosity, problem solving, autonomy, caring, risk taking, persistence, and humor.

Though most people don’t understand the the challenges of teaching preschool (including other teachers), the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards does. They’ve crafted teaching standards for early childhood generalists that are developmentally appropriate, rigorous, and relevant. The National Board includes preschool teachers in the movement to professionalize the teaching profession.

Parents and teachers don’t think about preschool teachers earning National Board Certification; they should.

I became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2004. Getting Board certified was a life-changing experience for me. The standards gave me the language and confidence to talk professionally about the my work. More importantly, it taught me to stop selling the important work of preschool teachers short.

Consider this: Children’s brains grow faster from birth to kindergarten than at any other stage; it’s a challenge to continually teach each student at individual levels when every day brings changes in each child. Over the course of a preschool year, each student will double or triple their vocabulary.

Learning targets? When we do our jobs well, we hit moving targets.

Preschool teachers are the first act in a child’s story of learning. We set the stage. Students are not just becoming school ready, their minds are forming neurological connections, social and emotional understanding, and dispositions about learning that set patterns that will last a lifetime.

What’s all this look like in a preschool room?

Art center students mix their own paint colors to create vibrant and rich work that they describe and reflect on with peers and teachers
Dramatic play students weigh objects, exchange money, make signs, and communicate how the scenario should play out at their farmer’s market
Block area students apply problem solving to build a product together – a three-dimensional map of their community, a model of the Taj Mahal, or the “tallest” tower
Science lab students create observational sketches, predictions or charting data about living creatures or what makes things sink or float
Math area students categorize found-objects into categories, determining there are multiple solutions
Writing center students post letters to one another, and write letters that go home about missing a parent, work accomplished, or a funny story

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” There’s nothing simple about teaching preschool-aged children. Do you have to go to college for this? Of course you do. And it’s time our peers, families, and communities appreciate this. The National Board has given us the tools to professionalize preschool and our profession. Get Board certified. It’s what’s best for your students and early childhood education.

Suzanne Farmer, NBCT

Suzanne Farmer, NBCT and mother of two girls, has taught preschool, kindergarten and math intervention, and was the Kentucky 2012 recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching. She is currently on leave from the Danville Independent Schools to serve as the KY Director of the Network to Transform Teaching.