with love and squalor

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 12 2011

super nanny???

sometimes, being a pre-k teacher feels more like being a nanny than anything else.  especially when you’re at a k-8 school where many of the people around you seem to have the misconception that your classroom is basically a daycare center.  if i could rewind to a year ago this time… i would not have imagined myself in a room with 24 4-year-olds… ever.  i had no experience with young children whatsoever.  i don’t even have any younger siblings or cousins.  in fact, up until institute i was kind of afraid of, at least indifferent, towards, little kids.  this meant i had no idea what 3 or 4-year-olds would be capable of developmentally, emotionally, cognitively, or anything else.  i had never heard a justin bieber song.

now, i feel like i understand little kids a lot better.  obviously, i’m not an expert, and little kids are all different.  i sometimes don’t like the tfa approach of basically painting all children as empty vessels that are filled and directed only by the adults in their lives.  little kids have free will.  i have shy students, incredibly sweet and nurturing students, students who really, really care what i think and whether or not they’re going to get a sticker, students who are pretty independent, students who completely zone out 75% of the time, and students who cry all day (still working on that).

despite this slightly better understanding of little kids and their varied personalities, i still have no idea what i’m doing.  i’m starting to feel that i might have been more competent teaching an older grade of students.  i am a very academic person and it’s been long time since i had to “break down” anything i explained to anyone.  teaching little kids what “respect” means or what a “color” is or how to stand in line is really counter-intuitive for me.  the fact that i struggle with this is getting in the way of my teaching.  i feel like i confuse my kids most of the time and i don’t really know what to do about it.  i also hate that basically 75% of my job is classroom management and diffusing behavior problems.  with a huge class like i have, it’s really hard to have any time with the kids that’s just fun or for knowledge sake.  honestly, someone usually “ruins” it.  i know that i’m supposed to say that, as the adult, i’m the one who ruins it by not solving the behavior problem fast enough, but i do sometimes wish my kids would just… i don’t know… be quiet sometimes.  there are just so many of them!  god, it’s hard.  it’s really, really hard.

i have one student, z, who i have no idea what to do with.  i actually like this child (those of you without pre-k or k classes might be surprised by how much toxicity you can build up toward one innocent little 4 or 5-year-old… no matter how kind of a person you truly are… believe me) and i believe he is smart and sweet.  however, he is behaviorally out of control.  he cries ALL the time, fake tears, so loudly it’s impossible to do anything near him.  he cries when he doesn’t get his way.  he’s a poor sport.  he whines.  he “curses” (poopy, butt, etc.) all the time.  he HITS and KICKS and spit in a little girl’s face.  ugh, it’s awful.  he just has serious anger problems and i’m not sure how to address it because he is SEVERELY affecting my classroom’s dynamic.  i never get complaints about other students kicking or hitting each other; with him, it’s a daily basis.  he thinks it’s a way to “play” and i saw him kick his sister (HARD!!!), who is in kindergarten, so i know it’s something he’s used to at home.  i have talked to his mom a lot but i have also seen his interactions with his mom and i know that she often lets him do whatever he wants.  i made an individualized behavior plan for him today.  she was mortified when i told her that he spit in a little girl’s face.  but she is at a loss with him, too.  she told me she is trying to get him placed in kennedy krieger school for kids with emotional/learning disabilities but that it’s a long, slow process.  she also told me she wants to put him in therapy but that he has to turn 5 before he’s legally allowed to be in therapy.  she obviously sees the issues with him and is trying to solve them.  for now, i am at a loss.

that is just one of my students.  i have 24 others.  although i learned from supernanny the appropriate way to put a child in time out, it’s a lengthy, time-consuming process (when the child has trouble accepting consequences, as this one does).  i simply don’t have 45 minutes to devote to putting z in time out.  i have too many other students with too many other needs, some of whom have behavior problems (though not violent ones) that are as severe as his in other ways.  i feel so incompetent and unprepared to have the class that i have.  i am thankful for my job, but mostly i’m just tired and stressed out.  i feel like i’m widening the achievement gap.  i feel all those things that you’re “supposed” to feel as a first-year corps member, for sure.  it sucks.

4 Responses

  1. Linda Moberg

    You will do fine! It is very difficult working with this age group. Many have never left their mother’s or other guardians side since birth for more than a few hours for less than the time they are in school each day. You will learn how to handle z when you one day look down and notice that he has finally accepted the fact that you are there for him no matter what! You are NOT a bad teacher nor have you gotten in over your head. I see you making a difference in many of their lives, and yes along the way you may lose one, but it happens in all age groups. First stop being so hard on yourself and that will help. You are not the problem, but in many situations you will be the solution! You have done everything in your power so far for z, by reaching out to the mother and caring! I hope to see more of your days in the weeks and months to follow. You will travel this journey and at the end you WILL have made a difference to many young lives. Good luck1

  2. stephanie

    I hope the administration stops pulling your para out as the school year gets rolling. A 24-1 ratio makes things so much more difficult. (But of course, they probably think you are having a grand old time playing all day down there, right?)

    Don’t feel bad that you are spending most of your time on procedures, and not much on the curriculum, at this age, one of the most important thing you can teach them is how to be a good student. If they can get that, everything else will come along.

    And don’t be afraid of centers, it is the only way you will be able to work with small groups of children. It is worth the work to get there ….. just think of how much easier the assessments would have gone if they were already in place. Just don’t introduce them all at once. Start with one at a time, while you have something the whole group can work on while you rotate them in and out. (On a day your para is there too, obviously.)

    Good Luck!

    ps ….. have you ever seen the movie Kindergarten Cop?

  3. stephanie

    Do you have anyone else (adults) in the classroom with you, who could be put on “z duty” and deal with time outs, etc while you deal with the other 23? If possible, they could intercept the behavior before it escalates, and ruins the lesson.

    One of the really hard part of dealing with this behavior, is no matter what you do, it is still gaining him attention. And some kids want that attention, even if it is negative.

    • aea107

      Yes, I do have a para, but my school often pulls her to sub for other classes or to do things for the administration, and she is also constantly dealing with the class of 24. We’ve also been doing assessments this week–made harder by the fact that the school keeps pulling her from my classroom. Neither of us can devote that much time to this one child, and he really needs it. It’s pretty sad.

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