Last week I presented two workshops at the California Head Start Conference. I discussed with one group about one of the Head Start goals, which is helping families acquire basic needs. These basic needs are essential for the family to function well and for the child to learn in her preschool setting. We also discussed how research indicates that there are ‘other’ basic needs a child has to feel in a classroom in order for her to be an effective learner. Three of those basic needs are safety, security, and respect. I think good teachers can help children fulfill those needs, even when the physical aspect of the school/classroom is not the best. I was thinking about this again when my granddaughter, Audrey, recently sent me a sketch she made for her teacher.
I am not sure what thought processes were happening when she created this cartoon, but I do know that we can help children feel safe and accepted in many different physical surroundings. She was definitely telling her teacher that she felt safe and loved in her school environment.
Some teachers complain about their lack of resources or their less-than-desirable classroom setting. While these issues are a concern, having the teacher create a safe and loving environment is much more important. I have student teachers in a very old school building right now. However, that school is run very effectively, is spotlessly clean, and is filled with great teachers. The students there are safe, secure, respected, and are learning on a daily basis. I actually see more learning taking place in that school than in some of the other schools that are relatively new.
Safety, security, and respect are things that we can provide for children, even if we are in a less than perfect building or classroom. As Audrey stated, we can brighten any alley.
Every fall I supervise a group of student teaching candidates. Each candidate is hosted by a site teacher in an elementary school. I have 22 this year in 4 schools. Also every fall, including this one, I have needed to make some adjustments in the assignments as the teacher and the candidate begin working (or not working) together. I recognize that it is a critical situation. My students will be in the those classrooms for most of the school year. They will take over as the teacher for three months beginning in January. Sometimes I am challenged in deciding whether a student teaching candidate should be reassigned to a new setting or told to ‘give it some time to make the adjustment and learn to work together.’ Of course, I am also tempted occasionally to tell someone to grow up; and I’m not necessarily talking about the candidates. This year one site teacher told her candidate to “sit in the corner and be quiet.” She didn’t want her to “get in the way” while she was preparing the classroom for the children. I can’t even imagine telling another adult to sit in the corner and be quiet. The reason her student teacher was there was to learn about and help set up the classroom. Another issue was a teacher who expects the candidate to work 10 hours a day, like she does, at the school. This student teacher has a young family and is still in school, besides being in the classroom 2 days a week. Her expectations are on the level of a veteran teacher, not for a student who learning to become a teacher.
So, here I am working out the current issues with this group. My candidates have been marvelous, but a few site teachers are causing the problems. I tell my students that this is a life lesson about getting along with coworkers and building a strong grade level team. This is challenging when you are working with different personalities and different value systems. I do challenge my candidates to make the best of the situation and keep smiling. The most important factor in this equation is the student. When tension exists among the adults, it undermines the positive classroom atmosphere that should be created for the children. Every year I am tempted to tell everyone, “Can’t we all just play nice and get along?”