Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why I teach preschool . . .

Well, I could give the short answer, and say "Because I love it" but I won't.

Some days, it still surprises me that my job title is Preschool Teacher. I wasn't sure that I'd ever get married and have any children of my own, but even if I did, I always imagined that I would work outside of the home.

My educational journey wasn't exactly a straight line after high school - I graduated from high school in 1984, went to school for a couple years, worked as a 911 dispatcher for a few years, moved, and finished my bachelor's in English a couple years later. Worked as a technical writer in Chicago for 18 months, and then went to graduate school for a year. Got married, dropped out of graduate school, and then worked as a technical writer for another 3 years. Got pregnant with Flower, and was offered a job as a computer software trainer at a university (same university that I got my bachelor's degree). I worked as a trainer/training supervisor for the next 4 1/2 years. During that time, I had Jelly Bean. When Jelly Bean was a year, I decided to go from full-time to part-time so that I could see the kids more. It was nice - I got to see the girls in the mornings, and I worked in the afternoons when they napped. It lasted a lovely six months. But the University was going through budget cuts, and they laid off many part-time employees, including me.

Flower was 3 years old. I had been hoping to be able to send her to preschool, but with our income cut quite a bit, preschool was not in the budget. So I decided that I would teach her myself. I researched early childhood education, and checked lots of books out at both the University's library and our local library. It was an exciting but overwhelming time. But I had been around my own young children for 3 years now, and I had taught young children at my church for several years, and I had been teaching for my work for a number of years (not to young children, but some of the techniques were similar).

So I started in January 2003 with Flower and two other 3 year olds. I had some homemade Montessori materials, but I didn't have many. But we did lots of Practical Life activities, and read books from Before Five In a Row and used a lot of the ideas in the BFIAR book. I saved up most of the money that I made that first semester to buy some basic Montessori materials. Word had started going around that I taught preschool, and by Fall of 2003, I had 10 students and had to offer a MWF session and a TTh session. I decided to offer lunch to the students starting this fall (something that I still offer) so that we would have a more natural setting to do our grace and courtesy and practical life work.

By late 2003, I was pregnant with Super. My due date was in September 2004, so decided that to take my maternity leave during Fall of 2004, and just hope that there would be enough interest to still have students come by January 2005. Well, I worried unnecessarily, because I ended up with 7 students (plus Flower) who were willing to wait for me to come back. Super would take his morning nap during preschool, and Jelly Bean was attending also by this time as a 2 year old.

Flower went off to Kindergarten at the local elementary by Fall 2005, and Jelly Bean started her first official year at Montgomery Academy. Super had dropped his morning nap by this point, and he would just come to preschool with us. I had toddler materials available for him, and I would also try and include him with the group as much as possible (if we were drawing, he would try and draw too, etc.)

Each summer, I would worry about whether I would have enough students to keep teaching, and each year it would work out somehow. I met a woman once when I was pregnant with Super when we were watching a football game and we were talking about what we did, and I said that I taught preschool out of my home, and she said "Oh, I've been looking for months, and I'd love to have her go to a smaller in-home school!" Her daughter attended up attending for two years, and her son for one. Some people here about it through my church - during any given year, I usually have at least one student from my church, although I do not do any religious teaching at Montgomery Academy. I've had a few neighbors send their children, I've had parents refer me to other people, and people have heard from my husband at his work, and asked me if I had openings. I have had a MWF group and TR every year but the first and the semester after Super was born, and I generally have 5 students (including one of my children) on each day.

In Fall 2007, Jelly Bean started Kindergarten, and Super started his first official year at Montgomery Academy. By December 2007, I had my first daycare child. She was 3 years old at the time, so she would come to preschool every day, and then nap for a couple hours, and then play with my kids from 3-5 pm. In July 2008, I started watching a 6 week old. And in Fall 2008, I had another daycare child start - a 3 year old girl. Since most of daycare children have been preschool age, and attend preschool here, it wasn't a difficult transition to adding childcare to Montgomery Academy. Now, I generally have two preschool only children on MWF, and two other preschool only children on Tues/Thurs in addition to the daycare children and Super, so I still end up having 5 students attending each day.

When I first started teaching, I just taught in the living room or at the kitchen table, but shortly decided to move it to one of our then spare bedrooms. It was a rather large bedroom (15 x 12) with a walk-in closet for storage of all the Montessori Materials. I put shelves against three of the walls and left one wall for a circle time/reading area. The room had a door, which was nice when other children came to play so I didn't have to worry about other children getting into the preschool materials. When Super was 1, I needed to move him into the girls' room, and move the girls into the preschool room. So we moved the preschool materials out into the family room. This room has more wall space, but it does not have a door. It was a problem sometimes when we had play dates with children who didn't know how to use the materials properly, or who might choke on one of the smaller pieces, and so I'd have to move stuff into the office, etc.

So very recently, we took almost all the toys in the house and moved them to the living room and turned it into a playroom. In the preschool area, I've moved the smaller pieces up to the top shelves, and put plenty of the toddler materials on the bottom shelves. So far, it is working out well.

I've had a few people ask me if I am going to stop teaching preschool when Super goes to Kindergarten in Fall of 2010, and go back to Training, or Technical Writing. I tell them "I don't know." If I do go back to work outside of the home, it will be because we really need the money that a full-time outside the house job would bring in. It would also depend on if I was still able to have enough children interested in attending Montgomery Academy, either as a preschool student or a daycare child.

But honestly, if I can, I would like to teach preschool forever. Well, maybe not forever. But for a good long while longer. Teaching children, and just being there as they learn, is one of the few things that truly brings me joy.


smith said...

Just came over from your comment on my blog (Maybe Montessori). Loved reading your story and I'm always glad to find another Montessori/Homeschool blog for inspiration ;)

AndieF said...

Thank you for your nice words! There weren't really any blogs back when I started back in 2003. I started checking blogs a couple years ago, and it has been nice to read about others in similar situations and to get inspiration from others.