I’ve had this piece in my Drafts folder for a week now, and have rewritten it at least as many times. It started as factual and sappy, and I’m hoping it settles on enlightening, funny & sincere with only a hint of sap. What caused so much drama in my life that it took me a WEEK to blog about? It was the milestone of my youngest kiddo Aria graduating Preschool. Now pick your butt off the floor and stop laughing! I’m NOT (exactly) mourning the end of preschool. Rather, I’m trying trying to properly honor one of the most underestimated occupations out there: Schoolteachers. Specifically “special education” preschool teachers and Paraprofessionals. Let me ‘splain.
First, the Back Story:
Both of my kiddos qualified to get “extra help” due to speech and developmental delays. Kids who qualify can start preschool through the public school system as early as the day they turn 3. Unfortunately I didn’t know this until Jonah was 3 1/2, so he didn’t start until almost 4 (another reason why life for us “firstborn experimental kids” stinks- but that’s another rant for another blog). Poor Jonah had SEVERE speech issues and could barely speak. When he did, it was all but impossible to understand him, so he made up his own sign language to communicate. He did okay in his first year of preschool, but he got “lost in the shuffle”. In August we moved to a new community and Jonah was placed in the preschool classroom of a young, female teacher whom we shall refer to as “Miss S”. The placement couldn’t have been any more perfect (Jonah has always had a thing for young ladies), and we immediately saw positive results. Jonah started the year as a self-conscious little guy who would start “shutting down” when he wasn’t understood. By the end of the year, he was a gregarious, considerably more confident little guy. Unfortunately since I worked full-time and had another little demanding imp to take care of, I didn’t know much of what happened, other than acknowledging that Miss S had “accomplished miracles”.
I told Miss S at Jonah’s preschool graduation to “look out, you will be getting this feisty little pistol (Aria) mid-next year, and she is NO JONAH.” As “luck” would have it (plus a little finagling on the part of myself and Miss S) Aria started preschool in Miss S’ class the day of her third birthday. I work 4 days a week and have Thursday’s off, and since both kids were in school, I was now able to volunteer in the kids’ classrooms on my “day off” (though I do more that day then when I’m at work lol).
Now on to the point
If I thought teachers were amazing before, it PALED into insignificance when I was able to volunteer in a public school preschool classroom and see first hand what they deal with Monday through Thursday. If you want an adventure, you should take a day in the life of a preschool teacher!! Most of you may laugh at my suggestion, so I’m going to take you on a “typical” day for a preschool teacher in my public school district, from a mom’s perspective. Again, I don’t know ALL the ins and outs, but want to do my best to give you an idea so HANG ON, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
There are up to 13 kids in a class with half being “typical peers” and half being kids with “special needs”. They can be kiddos with autism, Downs’ Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, speech and or developmental delays, behavioral issues, etc. Depending on the extent of “special kiddos”, there are usually one or two other adults, called Paraprofessionals (or Paras), who help the really special kids. The kids refer to all of the adults in the classroom (whether teacher or para) as teachers, but I call them SUPERHEROES and the extra special kiddos couldn’t get through the day without them.
What makes special education teachers and Paraprofessionals Superheros?
Bathroom Duty (or should I say Doodie 🙂 “Typical peers” need to be potty trained and have good social skills to go to public preschool to act as peer models for the special kids. The “specials” do not. So these teachers and paraprofessionals have to take kiddo’s to the bathroom, wipe and change diapers of kids who aren’t even their own. And let’s face it, even the “potty trained” typical kids are only 3 or 4, so they sometimes require “maintenance wipes”. Yep these ladies deal with number ones and number twos daily. (Sidenote: the Amazing Miss S helped me potty train Miss Aria). So you are thinking “Ewww dealing with little kids and toileting”? Oh my friends, that’s JUST the beginning!
School is a Petri Dish. We all know that kids are disease carrying monkeys but PREschoolers are the WORST. Little kids have NO IDEA of personal space… or boundaries. They cop more feels and spread more halitosis than rabid hyenas. They have this need to be up in everyone’s faces. This ALONE spreads the common cold and flu, but add to that:
Garden Variety of Bodily Substances. Little kids suck thumbs & fingers, bite fingernails, suck on shirts, etc. Which means drool, slobber, spit, dribble. They ALWAYS want to hold your hand RIGHT after sucking their thumb…yummy. Then there’s the mucus. Everyone’s nose runs when we are crying, cold or HAVE a cold. The “little darlings” don’t always remember to use tissues (aka Kleenex). This means they use their sleeves, or their TEACHERS’s sleeves, whenever a drippy nose happens. The worst mucus incidents are when a teacher is sweetly cuddling and comforting a sobbing kid (which happens dozens of times a day). Then, RIGHT as the kid is about to calm down, they SWEETLY (sarcasm font) make SURE to rub their snotty nose ALL over the teacher’s shoulder. OR right as they are in the teacher’s face telling her a story… THEY SNEEZE. RIGHT. IN. HER. FACE. EWWW.
NOISE & Chaos… time TEN. I can barely handle my own two small evil minions, let alone 12 of them, ALL the same age at the SAME time. Miss S called her classroom the “Tiny Turtle Classroom” so I took to referring to the littles inside it the “Tiny Turtle Tornadoes”. AND they WERE EVERYWHERE lol. Imagine have TEN 4 year olds hopped on sugar together. Now make them sit still and learn something. HA! I KNOW, right? And right as you try to teach them something:
“WHY?” “I know we are talking about letters, but WHY is the sky blue and WHY does my dog poop green? And WHY is he touching me?” OOOOH The “WHY’s” and tattle-tale interruptions that have nothing to do with anything. Which also relates to:
Four and Five Year Old Girls (think they) know EVERYTHING. Just ask them. Enough said.
“Bad Boys, Bad Girls! Whatcha Gonna Do?” Every person, big or small has their moments, but kids are still learning to control their emotions, so they have more. I have no patience to begin with, so I always admired those who chose teaching as a profession. There are times my kids are so bratty I can barely stand to be around them. The good news is I definitely don’t spoil my kids, and I’m allowed to give them a swat on the bum if I see fit. These teachers are entrusted with kids with ALL sorts of backgrounds. From spoiled, entitled brats to neglected, angry kiddos to everything between. I’ve to watch these saints… I mean teachers get smacked, kicked, scratched, punches and slapped across the face and it made me so me beyond angry that MY head spun. But they just quietly take it, and do what they can to keep the other kiddos from getting hurt. Many times I’ve seen them THROW themselves between the children and danger resulting in some impressive battle scars.
“But Wait, there’s MORE?” Inevitably it seemed it was never just one kiddo having a bad day. They would ALL have a bay day on the same day. But the cherry on this ice cream Sundae from H3ll is that these (poor) amazing teachers have TWO classes of little people a day? Yep, one in the morning, and another in the afternoon.
Somehow they “magically” get the kids to sit in a mostly orderly fashion and listen.I was shocked at how much the little “Tiny Turtle Tornados” were learning. Not only their letters and numbers, but things that were much more important, like how to deal with each other, how to deal with themselves and their emotions, how to sit still, how to talk, how to learn and most importantly: to believe in themselves. How do I know this? At the end of the year a little boy who used to hit everyone now uses his words to show anger instead of his fists. A little girl who couldn’t express herself except through yells sees me and says: “Hi”. A little boy with big blue eyes who had such low self esteem he wouldn’t try to talk now bounds up to me and starts a conversation. Who else can put on their resume “taught a child to speak. Made a little boy believe in himself”?
So NOW are you all on the same page with me? Day in and day out from mid-August until June. The teachers stay up late writing lesson plans, researching ways to reach each kiddo in their classroom. By the end of the year they are drowning in reports, and sorting through a school year’s worth of work to compare and contrast how each kid was when they started, versus the end of the year. And in two months they have two new classes of kids to figure out. These educators most DEFINITELY deserve a 2 month break (along with a COPIOUS two month supply of alcoholic beverages and chocolate).
So when Aria walked out to “Pomp and Circumstance” (the graduation song), in her little construction paper & yarn graduation cap, I got a lump in my throat. Not so much because my baby was on to kindergarten, but more because I was saying goodbye to some of the most amazing Superheroes I have met, who helped raise my kiddos. But I DON’T CRY, so that’s as far as it’s going… until “Mrs. K” (Miss S got married halfway through this school year) played a slideshow of photos of the year. Then I felt a tingling in my eyes. But to clarify: I WASN’T crying…there were 40 of us crowded in a 90 degree classroom… my eyes were just… sweating.
So to all teachers: Enjoy your summer, slice up some apples and start soaking them in Whisky now to prepare for next fall, and no matter what.. Just SHAVE Your LEGS!!