When our daughter was two years old, we sent her to a “cooperative” preschool. That word in quotes meant parents were called upon to come in and help out in the classroom on occasion. There was a schedule set up to have either a mom or dad act essentially as the teacher’s assistant for a couple of hours.
At the time, I was doing an afternoon radio show, so I volunteered to go in at 9am one day, thinking it would be easy. My daughter was thrilled and the teacher had a big grin on her face when we walked in. I thought it was merely a smile of appreciation. I quickly learned it was more of a smirk, a silent way of signaling that I had no idea what I was in for.
I knew a little bit about this world because I have a sister-in-law who has spent years teaching in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms. But as an adult, my only real exposure to children in a classroom had been when I went to visit my parents in the high schools where they worked. Those locales had their own levels of chaos, but nothing to compare to being in a single room with twenty preschoolers.
Over the course of the next two hours, I found myself in the middle of a maelstrom, complete with its own high-frequency soundtrack. There was no down time and not even a nanosecond of silence. Even when the teacher gave them an assignment or project to work on, the kids were moving here and there, playing with this, building that — all while speaking loudly, dancing around, and singing. And don’t even get me started on the paint.
It wasn’t a free-for-all, but it was exhausting. And I only had to do it one day.
That afternoon, I dedicated my radio show to everyone in the profession, promoting the idea that whatever those teachers are paid, it wasn’t enough. Many parents called in to tell similar stories (I was happy to learn that my daughter’s preschool was not an outlier) and praise the educators. I heard from several people in the profession — almost exclusively women — who appreciated my comments.
I hope this feeling of “how do they do this every day?” has swept the country in the last week or two, as schools have been closed and children have been home full-time. While teachers may be interacting with students via teleconferencing or other methods, the responsibility for ensuring the kids work on their lessons and filling hour after hour with something productive has fallen squarely on parents’ shoulders. They may never have wanted to home-school their offspring, but circumstances have forced them to, and without a break.
I hope that, as a result, a lot of parents are realizing how undervalued teachers are — not just as educators, but as babysitters, disciplinarians, role models, and so much more.
If not, well, it’s only March.