life · preschool · teaching · toddlers

Unexpected Lessons You Learn as a Preschool Teacher

I started my first post here talking about how I want to write and/or work in television, and that’s true. But possibly I didn’t give enough credit to my current job in that post, so here’s a quick post about the joys of teaching toddlers and some of the things I’ve learned while doing so.
Yes, it’s a long day and it gets tiring and the pay isn’t great. There are plenty of rewards though. I got hugs every day. I got lots of compliments, from “I like your hair,” to “I love your necklace,” and even, “You’re my best friend!” The kids tell us that they love us often. All of these things are more than I get from most of my dates! So, if you want to feel better about yourself, go hang out with some toddlers! On the other hand, they’ll also speak their mind if there’s something that they don’t like. “Why is your hair in a ponytail today? Take it out!” “You didn’t wear your pink shoes today. I don’t like these.” And, who can’t use a dose of honest advice from time to time?!
We got a very generous class gift at the end of the school year, in addition to a few other gifts from individual students. But what really meant the most to me were the notes I got from parents, saying how much I helped their child that year. The most common comment I got this year was, “He/she comes home talking about Miss Lauren all the time!” In my head, I thought, “Well, I hope he/she is saying good things!”
Here are some things I didn’t expect to learn when I started teaching toddlers.

  1. How to spot (and change) a poopy diaper. And do so without gagging! It’s gotten to the point where I can walk into a room full of children, take one whiff, and go, “Someone pooped!” Finding the culprit and getting them to the changing table can be a bit more difficult! Between camp, work, and babysitting I’ve been changing dirty diapers for so long that when I have my own children that will be no big deal. Some of the counselors at camp this year are teenagers and they gag when trying to change the diapers. It would be mean to laugh at them, so I don’t, but it is nice to get a break from constantly changing dirty diapers!
  2. These children will eventually grow up and you never know what they’ll do. Maybe you won’t keep in touch with all of the children you’ve ever taught, but if you remember there names, who knows? You might hear on the news some day about them curing cancer or starring on Broadway and you can think, “Hey, I had a very small part in helping that person become who they are today!”
  3. Sometimes looking at the world through the eyes of a three-year old can be a good thing. They don’t seem to see others who are different as a bad thing; they just want to play with everyone. If there’s a child who doesn’t talk yet or one who still wears diapers or a boy wearing a tutu from the dress-up center, they just accept that and continue to play with them.
  4. Listen, really listen. You never know what you’ll learn about someone if you ask them questions and give them a chance to talk. One of my co-workers was saying how a certain student was very quiet, but I took time to talk to that child and she wasn’t that quiet! She told me all about her family and friends and what happens at home. The same goes for getting to know adults as well.
  5. “Use your words!” Using your words can be a powerful thing. We teach the children that sometimes you need to ask for what you want in order to get it, like if someone else has the toy they want. I’ve recently realized this can apply to adults too. How can someone I’m dating know what I want unless I tell him? Or what if you think you deserve to be paid for working extra hours, but the boss hasn’t said anything? It’s so uncomfortable speaking up in these situations, but if you don’t verbalize it and ask for what you want, you might not get it.
  6. The “proper” way to serve certain foods. And, keep in mind, this may be different for each child. Apparently there is a “wrong” way to open a bag of mini muffins!
  7. Children are very honest and never say anything near a child that you don’t want them to hear or repeat. They think nothing of telling you what bad words mommy and daddy say at home. They even rat on themselves by sharing what inappropriate thing they said or did that got them in trouble with their parents! I’ve learned more about some children’s lives at home than I expected to! They may not seem to hear you when you’re standing next to them and asking them to stop hitting their friend, but you can curse quietly from across the room and somehow that they’ll hear! (Luckily, this was a lesson I learned before it happened to me!)
  8. You can’t always please everyone. If two children are fighting over a toy, giving it to one child will make the other upset and taking it away will make both of them upset. Sometimes there’s no “fair” way to settle their disagreement if you didn’t see who had it first. This is a good life lesson to learn because you’ll never be able to keep everyone happy. I try my best to do so, but it’s just not possible all the time.
  9. How to be better at multi-tasking. At some point you’re going to be asked, “Why?” for the fiftieth time that day, and the child might not accept “I don’t know” as an answer. (The question then becomes, “Well, why don’t you know?!”) so you’re trying to answer them while someone else wants their snack opened (the correct way, please!) and there’s a fight starting in front of you. Someone else is probably trying togged your attention to ask for an “Anna braid” or an “Elsa braid,” and even though you’ve told them you’ll do it in a minute they will continue to ask until you start! Somehow, all of these things can be managed at once. It’s not something you’ll plan to learn how to do; it’ll just happen!
  10. We can learn lessons from the children too. As much as we teach them, they can sometimes teach us things. One of my students this year said, “When something seems bad, just turn it around and find something good!” Her classmate may have replied with, “That is not a good idea!” but I thought it was brilliant! We can also learn confidence from them. They are so sure of themselves. If their friend says something mean, they don’t seem to take it personally; they just insist that they’re right and a few minutes later the two of them are playing together again.
  11. And, finally, dream big! One of my students this year told me he is going to be Batman when he grows up, so why shouldn’t we all aim that high?!