Preschool is such a huge transitional life change for kids, but as adults, it seems like it’s no big deal. Your child gets shipped off to school for a few hours during the day, and you end up with a more than likely much needed break. Right? I mean, I get it. I was a preschool teacher for 10+ years. I worked with kids ranging from 6 weeks to 12 years old. I’ve had my fair share of experience working in various child care centers and completing the task of numerous teacher roles. I never really understood the meaning of preschool or even day care to children until I look at it in the eyes of my own child. Being on the other side of the equation brings a whole new perspective to this life transition.
As a preschool or early childhood teacher, I could recall the number of children being dropped off in my care that would scream bloody murder. Grasping onto the legs of their parent begging their parent not to go. I can recall thinking and even reassuring the parent that things will be fine once they finally ripped off the band-aid and left. I knew from the other side of things that would be just that. The kid would be fine. They’d eventually engage in the activities for the day and be on their merry way. During pick up, the child would squeal with delight and tell the parent how exciting their day had truly been.
As a parent, my perspective has completely shifted. My daughter, Eloise, recently turned 3 years old. She has been anticipating the day she could attend preschool for quite some time now. She loves the idea of riding a bus and going to play with her friends. Eloise has always aspired to be a social child, but due to lack of supports in our community, we haven’t had the opportunity to make any meaningful friendships for her. Preschool was her best option to utilize the time to socialize. The build-up to preschool was huge and she was ecstatic to attend her first day. But as time goes on, she’s less than enthused.
Our schedule became quite hectic with her attending school three days a week, play therapy once a week, and her sister needing speech therapy once per week. Due to the lack of down time at home, I decided to switch her into a new classroom. Having preschool only two days a week would allow her to have two full “chill” days at home. The girl loves to socialize, but she sure as shit loves her lack of structure and relaxation time at home. I didn’t anticipate the transition or change to be so difficult because the little boy that lives across the street is in her new classroom. I confidently thought she’d be thrilled to see a familiar face and going to school would be easy. Boy, was I fucking wrong.
The first two days of school, Eloise was thrilled to go. She squealed with delight and bounced around excited to meet new friends. Day three was a whole new experience. She was that kid that clung to my legs and begged me not to go. A light bulb went off in my brain, and I finally saw the other side. I finally had the glimpse of those parents I used to reassure that their child would be fine…. and my heart fucking sank into my stomach. I wish I could turn back time. I wish I could change my interactions with those parents. I wish I could tell them that things won’t be fine. I wish I could tell them that they’ll go to work and worry the entire time they are separated from their child. I wish I could tell them that the pit they feel in their stomach won’t subside until they see their child’s bright, shining face again. I wish I could tell them that their child would survive, but that the parent themselves may not. (Ok, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get me!)
I was a preschool teacher for over ten years. I learned the tricks of the trade, and I always had a bag of tricks up my sleeve. I’m not bragging by any means, but I am confident in my ability to interact with children. I was always extremely hands on and did my best to make those kids feel at home. I’m an anxious person, and I know what it feels like to be anxious all of the time. I did my best to never let those kids feel those same feelings. If that meant rolling around on the floor like a fucking idiot, I did it. If that meant carrying a kid around for hours on end, I did it. I redirected. I engaged. I interacted. I laughed, played, danced. I got dirty. I made my classroom feel like Disney World! I did whatever I could to make each and every child in my classroom feel comfortable… and let me tell you what, it was utterly exhausting. I remember going home on a regular basis and passing out instantly. My job was tiring and wore me down quickly. It’s why I went back to school to obtain higher education. I was burnt out and couldn’t continue down the same path I was headed. I give so many props and applause to long-term preschool teachers. The work you do day in and day out is difficult. Go, you!
Circa 2009; passed out after a long day in my 2 year old classroom @ Kindercare – Perrysburg.
I, let’s be honest, brag about my experience as a preschool teacher because now, as a parent, I wish all preschool teachers were like me. As I peered through the small door window hoping to see my child happy, Eloise’s teacher leaned over and whispered something into Eloise’s ear. I couldn’t hear what she said, obviously, but the smile that grew on Eloise’s face showed me she’s in good hands. Maybe her teacher isn’t me. No, I know in fact she’s not me. She’s not bubbly and warm. She doesn’t overly interact. She doesn’t roll around on the floor. She doesn’t respond to the difficult transition exactly like I would. But she’s safe. She’s a safe person, and she’s different than me. This allows Eloise to learn new ways to cope with difficult transitions in life and for that, I am thankful.
I wish when I dropped my daughter off at school, that all teachers could see the difficult transition through my eyes. I don’t want the teacher to tell me that my child will be ok. I know she will be ok. She’s tough. She’s resilient. She’s strong. Telling me that she’ll be ok does nothing. It doesn’t help. In fact, sometimes I think it makes it worse. I have no magical advice on what to say to any parent, but interaction always seems to do it for me. I wish I could see the teacher rolling around on the floor and making the extra effort to ease Eloise’s anxiety. Being a preschool teacher is exhausting, yes, but being on your “A game” every single day is imperative to teach our children how to cope with these difficult transitions. As I walked out the door to leave for the short morning Eloise would be at preschool, the director ran after me.
“Would you be ok if I texted you a picture of Eloise happily playing in about 20 minutes?”
I held back tears. Absolutely!!
Transitions in life are naturally hard for all of us. Change is hard. Learning new things is hard. But if we constantly sit inside our comfort zone, what do we learn? How do we grow? How do we become bigger than what we are? I hate watching my child cry. I hate feeling sad and worried for her. I hate that I have to rip off the band-aid and watch her cry. But if I don’t, what am I teaching her? How am I helping her to manage her own anxiety? How am I helping her learn to interact with other adults? Other children? Every teacher Eloise has will be different. Every teacher will respond to her anxieties in a new way and won’t respond like I would. But isn’t that the beauty of it? Having multiple interactions with allow Eloise to learn a plethora of ways to cope with her own anxieties. At least I keep telling myself that anyway.. makes me feel better about it. Life transitions are so fucking hard. But life transitions are also so fucking important to help us grow as human beings. Grow, my little Peanut, grow… and know that I’ll always keep you safe
The 20 minutes later picture… Eloise running and playing with friends.