“Teacher, you’re skinny,” said one of my students. My mouth dropped open in surprise. She smiled up at me, completely innocent of the impact her words had just made. Me, skinny? I never think of myself as skinny. But five-year olds have this way of speaking with complete, unbridled honesty. Which is why I cringed a moment later, when the same little girl pointed across the room at her mother. “But my mommy isn’t skinny. She’s very fat.”
“My mommy is fat, too,” said another girl.
“And so is Miss Veronica,” said a boy, pointing at my assistant.
I cleared my throat and quickly tried to turn the moment into a lesson about how people come in different shapes, sizes, colors, etc. Because that is what I do. I am a teacher.
Some days, I absolutely love my job. I love seeing the wonder in children’s eyes as we erupt baking soda volcanos from paper cups. I love their enthusiasm as we read stories, play with parachutes, or stomp around like dinosaurs to Laurie Berkner music. I love to blow bubbles, kick soccer balls around the playground, and show kids how thrilling it can be to hold a ladybug or let an earthworm wiggle in their hands. I love the messy fingers and sticky tabletops as children create, explore, build, and discover new concepts.
Some days, I do not love my job. It can be very difficult to manage the huge amounts of paperwork, meetings, and deadlines that come along with a public-funded preschool program. It can be tiring to be the person in charge of supervising 24 kids, two assistants, and a number of parents, some of whom have rather demanding personalities. If something goes wrong, it is my fault. If the paperwork is not perfect, I must correct it. Just this year, I have had parents fighting with each other, a (possibly) drug-abusing assistant (whom I fired, of course), and an out-of-control, violent student who was terrorizing the other kids. Sometimes I want to quit teaching and become something completely different, like a computer programmer. No drama. Just peace and quiet, and typing in code on a screen. Sounds relaxing, really.
But then I remember the importance of my role. Computer programmers do not get to teach dozens of children how to be kind to one another, to love healthy foods, to read, to throw and kick a ball, to write their first words, to pretend, to dream, to love science and math and literature. Computer programmers do not get to work with low-income families, inspiring young adults to be more effective parents, to be actively involved in their children’s learning, and to make healthy choices that will benefit their families. Computer programmers do not get to plant seeds of learning in people, nurture them, and watch them grow. But I do. That is what teachers do best. And that is what I love most about my job.
Sadly, due to state budget cuts, my job may not be available next fall. So who knows…maybe I will have to sign up for some programming classes after all. How sad. But what is sadder is thinking about all of those low-income families whose children will not get to come to preschool next year. Each one of those children is like a garden of potential, but I, the gardener, will be stuck at home with a pocketful of seeds and nowhere to plant them.