I’m writing this in the parking lot of the education building at Johns Hopkins as I wait for Jaren to finish up his class. I’m in the midst of taking classes at Hopkins (a school I never thought I would attend) for early childhood education (a profession I never thought I’d call my own). I’m still just taking the minimum classes needed for certification, but I’ve been thinking more and more about just getting the masters. If you spoke to me on the phone over the summer, chances are we had at least one conversation about the pros and cons of just going ahead and getting my masters in 2 years. I eventually decided not to, since having a masters in early childhood education just didn’t seem like something I would continue to use. But, it’s been like a little itch in the back of my head that becomes more prominent as the school year progresses. And, way out of left field, a few nights ago my mom asked me if I should perhaps reconsider. This was completely shocking because my parents were definitely in the “no ECE masters” camp when this was all being decided. I mean, if my mom is starting to think it’s something I should do, then I should definitely consider.
The problem with the ECE masters is that it brings up all kinds of difficult questions about the future. Will I keep teaching after my 2 years in the corps? If so, will I stay in early childhood? If not, will I go back to journalism? Where will I live? (curveball there, but something that might change depending on what job I get). Seeing as how I’m currently in a place I never expected to be in, it makes trying to plan more than 1 year in advance seem almost foolish.
So, my classroom:
The GREAT: They are retaining information! Most of them will tell you that an AUTHOR “writes the book.” And the other day one of the little boys’ mom came in early to just chat. She said her son comes home and shares all about what he learned. At that moment, her son (my student) decided to uncharacteristically pipe up (he’s usually quite shy and quiet) and say, “I’m special!” Normally, this would not be a sentence that garnered more than a smile at his cuteness, but I nearly trampled him as I ran over for a big hug. “I’m Special” is the name of our current unit in school. Last week we finished up books of drawings the students made and the title of the book was “I Am Special.” It’s moments like those you realize that a standardized test cannot accurately capture everything the kids learn, but that they are learning just the same.
The bad: centers is a mess. For those of you not up in the Early Childhood lingo, “centers” or “choice time” is a period during the day where students pick an area to “play” in. I put play in quotes because to the un-trained eye, it looks lik the kids are just sitting in a corner playing with blocks, or pretending to make a cake in the kitchen area, or talking to themselves in the library area. However, as I have learned along my TFA/teaching journey (baptism by fire is possibly more appropriate), centers is actually very significant to the development and education of children from Pre-K and even up into a few of the older early elementary grades. Of course, in 1st or 2nd grade you no longer have the play kitchen or the puppets, but it’s nonetheless a time for students to make important choices on where they want to spend about 45 minutes of the day. At this age, they are learning so much through play; in the kitchen area, for example, they practice daily routines and I can introduce specific items (like a newspaper or umbrella) for them to understand using new tools. The teacher has the opportunity to walk around and expand on their learning by asking questions (I see you reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Joe. I see you moving your fingers under the words to help you read. What direction do we read in? You’re right! Left to right!)
So back to me. And my centers. They have been crazy. First, the students don’t understand fully that when one center is full, they have to choose another. We have a system where students hang their name next to the name of where they want to play, and there are only a certain number of open slots for each area. Second, it’s barely independent at this time. This is supposed to be a time where they are leading their own learning, but I feel like I’m still doing a lot of monitoring and getting them to stay in the same center and actually do what the center is for (reading in the library, not scooting around on the rug or using the reading pointers as magic wands). Also, before my formal observations start, I need to get a science center together. This seems frightening and possibly traumatically messy. Also, I need ideas of what science 4 year olds can do. This weekend is unfortunately going to be another one full of work. Minus TFA Adventure Day on Sunday. Running, jumping, climbing. There’s a zip line! Pray for me. (You know how I do with physical activity, especially when it involves coordination).