A fortnight ago I had the opportunity of interacting with and addressing teachers from across India at a seminar hosted by a leading international chain of preschools. As a teacher and a mother, I treat preschool teachers with a lot of admiration and envy.
My deep regard for preschool teachers stems from the crucial role that they play in bridging the child’s transition from home to school as well as set the tone for his/her learning in formal, structured environs of a school. Envy comes from the vibrant and stimulating world of possibilities that they inhabit with 3-6 years old eager beavers and uninhibited munchkins who are very creative, expressive and intelligent on one hand and impressionable on the other.
The influence that a preschool teacher wields is second only to that of rock stars and political leaders. The kids hang on her every word and observe and imitate every move placing her on a pedestal, a few notches higher that their parents, without her knowledge or consent.
At the expense of reiterating the obvious, teachers need to understand and appreciate this tremendous power they have over these kids. This bestows on them the responsibility to create a safe, stimulating and sensitive learning environment for the children without in any way negatively impacting or influencing their development.
Schools often hire preschool teachers randomly; wearing conceptual blinkers believing teaching preschoolers is a simple job, where ignorant little children are seen to be empty vessels to be filled with letters, sounds, numbers and lines. The culture of trivia is well inculcated in society and not only many a preschool teachers believe it but live up to it; perceiving themselves to be no more than glorified baby-sitters, perpetuating a pattern of haphazard, shallow activities aimed at keeping kids occupied and NOT engaged. Parents themselves do not believe that preschools have anything more to offer their kids than to keep them safe for a few hours, while they are at work.
In many preschools, the stress on academics and standardized, structured learning is preferred, with the main objective being to ensure uniformity of product in terms of “school readiness”. Thinking completely in the box, preschools/teachers confuse the foundation for the structure itself and instead of inculcating in the child the joy of learning, they jumpstart learning defined very narrowly to mean literacy and numeracy. Preschools need to be cognizant of how children develop naturally instead of wasting precious time and effort in how they can be made to fit into the system. Any waste or delay is criminal as these kids have the sharpest learning curve for the first 5 years of their lives. Time lost by them can never be reclaimed.
All teachers, in particular the preschool teachers, should be like skillful and sensitive potters who, first understand the temperament and nature of clay, then mould it by manipulating it from without while supporting it from within and then, patiently, let it settle in that form.
Alas, just as it is difficult to find a master potter, effective preschool teachers are also hard to come by!