Working and Parenting in Pre-K.
Becoming a mother was the single greatest gift and blessing in my life. Being overcome with love for these tiny humans that you are now entrusted to care for, is an amazing feeling. My children, a girl of seven and a boy of almost six, came almost as a pair as they were born only 19 months apart. I barely had the mom thing down, and my baby-brain was far from over from the first, when I found myself a mother of two kids under the age of two. Having been laid off from my job in publishing at 8 months pregnant with my daughter, I was a stay at home mom spending my days singing and dancing around the house with a baby on each hip and cheerios stuck to my pants. I taught them the alphabet, numbers, and just about every other thing I could think their precious little brains could comprehend. I took every opportunity to teach them. On walks through the park as I pushed the (very heavy) double stroller, I’d point to the features of birds we’d see, the texture of the bark on the trees we’d pass, and the colors and feel of the flowers growing around us. I was their teacher. The role came easily and I loved it, but I also took it very seriously. I knew the importance of an education, and a child’s education starts at home. My grandmother would always say, “You never speak baby talk to your kids. You always talk to them the way you do to adults.” I knew the importance of a strong vocabulary, so why not teach them big words? Teach them, teach them, teach them. I wanted to give them every opportunity to excel for when that day would finally come that I would no longer be their only teacher. They needed a good educational basis, and it was my job to give it to them.
When I enrolled my daughter in a community based Pre-K program, I cried the entire night before her first day (and the following morning, and the whole time she was there). It was so hard letting her go and putting my trust in people I didn’t know to take care of her and keep her as safe as I did. I would sit outside the school, while my toddler napped in the backseat, just in case. Just in case they called, just in case she needed me, just in case.
At first it was a difficult transition for her. She was used to it being the three of us all day. I was her comfort. She cried for the entire first week, when I dropped her, while she in her class, and when I picked her up. I would cry too. But I let her go. I knew I had to make her stay, even through all the tears, for her own independence, her sense of accomplishment, and her ever growing maturity. In no time at all, she was ready and happy. Loving her class, loving her teachers, loving her friends and loving all the new things she was learning. She was eager to show me all the things she made and learned each day. As a mother it’s a bitter sweet feeling. We want our children to be independent and grow, yet we want to keep them in our arms forever.
When it was time for my son to start Pre-K, I thought the transition would be easier. For me, he wasn’t the first child to start school, but he was the last. The last baby I would rock and cradle and sing to sleep. It wasn’t any easier. At the same time I was preparing to send him off to school I received a wonderful opportunity to become a paraprofessional in a Pre-K classroom. It would be my first formal teaching experience, though it had been all I did and all I knew for the previous 6 years. I realized it was now who I was, a teacher of children. I was fortunate to be placed in an amazing site in the very area I grew up and had spent my life. Thankfully, my son was placed at the same site. This was my first experience as a public school employee and the parent of a public school student. As the product of a public school education, I had always believed in the system and praised the teachers and faculty of public schools. But now being part of it in two very new ways, was both gratifying and heartwarming.
I had the same feelings of nervous anxiety for my sweet little boy as now he would be away from his mom for the first time. He too was not ready at first. He would cry and cling to me as I tried to leave him in his new class. Though I was just down the hall, separation, even feet sometimes, seems too far for a child. It was hard leaving him crying each morning, but I felt confident knowing the loving, caring ways of his teachers would make him feel better. He too began to blossom just as his sister did. On our way home each day he would tell me about the words he learned, the toys he played with and all the writing he accomplished. The writing center was his favorite activity. He’d write the names of his family members, address envelopes and draw pictures.
He learned about science and did experiments to show how science works. He learned about his community, he learned about light and water, he learned dances and celebrated holidays. He learned something new every day and had fun doing it. His love of learning that I had tried so hard to establish for four years, four years that seemed like an eternity while they were happening yet now seem to fly by in the blink of an eye, was flourishing. He also was learning how to make friends, and how to be a friend, two of the most important life skills he will ever acquire. As a parent, seeing him have such a wonderful experience filled me with pure joy. I owe that joy to the wonderful people of our school community as they encouraged and nurtured him in the hours I was apart from him.
As my son was being taught in his cozy classroom, I was down the hall encouraging and teaching other people’s children. Someone else’s precious baby that they had entrusted to us, with the same leap of faith I had with my children. Being my children’s mom makes me a better paraprofessional for our students. I look at every situation from both perspectives. From the point of an educator I want to teach these beautiful new minds as much as we can in the few short months we have with them. I also want to give them self-confidence and independence to be self-sufficient in an often difficult world. I want to teach them an acceptance of others that may be different but are just as perfect as they are. And I do this from the eyes of a parent who wants nothing more in life than a happy, healthy child. Both are an honor which I take very seriously in being a part of.
Holly Lauretta, Paraprofessional