The Joys and Struggles of Teaching Preschool On Your Own
By Roxie Zeller
One of the things that drew me to preschool was the idea of teaching with another teacher: someone with whom to solve problems, to discuss challenges and to rejoice in victories. During my student teaching, I found being alone with a group of kindergarteners all day, although rewarding, was lonely. I often find myself this year wanting to talk to another teacher as the children play, to discuss what I’m seeing, what I’ve noticed, and to make plans together for the upcoming weeks.
Over the past few weeks I have discovered that teaching preschool by myself has unique challenges. Throughout the day I am constantly making plans and backup plans, in case children need to use the restroom or change clothes while the inside person is already busy with other children. A few times the children have even caught me thinking out loud to myself when I’m trying to figure out the best flow of the day. Along with constantly thinking about the plan of the day, I’m also thinking about the materials we will need and where to put them so they are accessible. This may be more due to the shift to teaching most of the day outside in response to the pandemic. You have to prepare more thoroughly than you do when you are inside in the classroom, with everything at your fingertips. At times I have had an idea to do a project based on what the children show interest in that day, but can’t gather materials while I watch the children play. I have also found that sometimes the children or I would like to add a few different things to the project to deepen the learning, but would need to venture inside to grab them, such as paper to make boats for the pond or riverbed, beads to add to the yarn and stick creations in the woods, and various materials to use to build dams. Through this I am learning to be more intentional about what materials I make available for an activity outside, and I’m figuring out how to make activities stretch from one day to the next by adding some novel, desirable materials.
One of the biggest struggles that I have experienced is taking photos. During child-led activities, it’s natural to take photos to document what is happening, but taking photos is one of the last things on my mind during teacher-led activities. I have found myself wishing I had photos of an activity that happened in the classroom only to realize that I don’t have another adult in the room who can take pictures of activities I’m leading. With a co-teacher, there is always someone else present to take photos of the moments your hands are full. In addition, a co-teacher tends to take photos of things I might otherwise miss, leading to a wider selection and variety in the photos taken. Although it can be hard to step back during teacher-led activities, I’m starting to learn when I can step back to take photos while still being present.
Although I’m looking forward to the day that we can all teach with co-teachers again, I am also enjoying teaching my small group on my own. It is so rewarding to see how close the group has grown over the past few weeks due to the fact that we do EVERYTHING together. We don’t have the option this year of splitting into groups outside based on interests or taking a few children off to work on a project. Because of the group being together all the time, I’ve noticed that the children look out for each other in a different way than I saw last year. When there is a problem, such as a stuck bike, they look to each other for help rather than to teachers. I have also really enjoyed the fact that because my group is all roughly the same age, we have been able to focus on some shared interest areas of the group in a deeper way than I have before. I also get lots of opportunities to simply show them what I love about nature and play on a personal level.
I’m excited to see how my little group continues to grow into a community this year. As the year passes we will be able to get to know each other very well, since in a small group, everyone’s strengths, struggles, and quirks come out and are accepted.