One Sunflower

take your partner by the hand

on October 19, 2009

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a teacher at a preschool center down the road.   We share 3 students in common, I’ll call them Alpha, Beta and Zed. The boys come to my class in the morning and then go to the other class in the afternoon.  Each year I usually have at least one student that is getting this “double dip.”  The teacher was interested in how the boys were doing in my class and we agreed it would be great to have their parents sign consent forms so information could be shared between the two sites.  I asked if I might be able to visit the classroom – something I’ve always wanted to do but have never had a real connection to call upon to make this request.  He welcomed my interest and we set an appointment for my visit.  I was eager to meet him, partly because it is unusual to have men in early childhood  but mostly because he told me that he gives Zed a hug each day because the little boy needs it.  (Zed is my little prince who likes to have a “skawee” face, see previous post.)  

Today was the day and so after quickly lunching on half a sandwich, I hopped in my car and drove the few miles to the school to get there at 12:30.   I’ve seen the school from the outside, it is part of a compound of  buildings including a health clinic,  community center and housing.  There was a winding ramp up to the door and the alarm beeped when I opened it.  The children were seated at 3 tables eating macaroni and cheese with hotdogs.  My three little buddies, all called out to me and soon every child knew my name and was telling me theirs.  I went around to each of my students and gave them a hug.  We chatted while they used the bathroom and brushed their teeth, all part of a similar routine our schools have in common.

The similarities stopped there however.  After brushing their teeth the children were excused to the rug and an arc of tape for seating.  The children were encouraged to find a book to read but after just a few minutes,  one of the teachers sat down in front of the arc and announced that she was going to read a story so it was time to put the books away.   This teacher had randomly picked up one of the books a child was reading – it featured pictures of animals making a rainbow and had ribbons that ran through torn pages.  I sat listening with one of my hands on Zed’s back. A classmate of his sat on my left but kept lying back on me so I moved just a bit – put my other hand on his back encouraging him to sit upright.  The teacher read in a flat voice with no animation.  Occasionally she asked the kids to recite the colors of the rainbow as they accumulated on subsequent pages in the book.   The children dutifully shouted them out but that was the only involvement in the story.  The other two staff members cleaned up the lunch things while this was happening and then went to tables and began working on projects.  When the story was over, each child – beginning with those who were sitting quietly – was asked to name where he/she wanted to play and they were dismissed  to that area.  Then the teacher left the room.  One staff member sat in front of the alphabet and called students to sit by her.  She seemed to be doing some sort of assessment.  The other staff member sat at a table in the art area and cut rectangles of colored paper.  Children worked at her table but there was no real conversation with the children.  The young teacher I had talked to on the phone arrived mid-way through my visit.  I didn’t get to chat with him much, I would have liked to. 

It isn’t that I think teachers should be leading and directing activities with students all the time but I do feel it is crucial to be in conversation with them, deepening and extending their oral language, pouncing on opportunities to scaffold their learning with “teachable moments.”  And what preschooler couldn’t use some social emotional support in making new friends, trying out play in new areas, being introduced to ideas in play and being supported in sustaining that play over a significant amount of time.  Here was a classroom of 20 students with a ratio I envied of at least 1/6 most of the time and yet there was little interaction between the adults and children beyond what most of them already experience in their homes.   This preschool is also part of  a program providing intervention for students at risk for failure, I don’t feel that what I saw today was quality intervention.

I returned to my school dismayed and mentioned the visit to my principal.   I rolled my eyes and blew through my bangs and proceeded to tell him what I’d seen.  “So what are you going to do about that?” he asked.   I’d been thinking about it myself driving back to school, taking an extra jaunt through town via the market.  I imagined myself in the same position of having a teacher from another school come sit in on my day.  How would I feel?  I would not want a visitor evaluating me based on an hour in my classroom, thinking they needed to show me a better way.     “Maybe we could invite them to visit us,” my principal suggested.  It had occurred to me that I could make that overture to the staff at the school.  There is a day once a month when they don’t have students and we are in session.  It would be an opportunity to build some bridges between our two communities.   We also have professional development opportunities that we could open up to their staff.   It is a matter of learning to capitalize on potential – really being that village we talk about all the time.

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