I’ve been volunteering at the boys’ school for the past couple of months and, let me tell you, it has been an experience. As I’m sure you can imagine it’s a bit chaotic but mostly, it’s so much fun. Matty stops in to see me every day I’m there, sometimes multiple times a day. Last week, I got to have a picnic with his class and it was the cutest. I’ve been helping them update their website, set up and run their blog and get a little more involved in the social media game so I’ve spent most of my time in the office with the director, assistant director and administration staff and I’ve had SO many realizations as a parent, I thought I’d share a handful.
- You could never really imagine a day in the life of a preschool administrator. You might think the administrators or directors sitting in the office have it easy – they’re not in the classrooms subject to snot and germs, blowouts and accidents, tantrums and fits or screaming and injuries – but you’d actually be wrong. On my first day in the office, five different kids got stung by bees. One by one, teachers were bringing them into the office and I remember thinking, what the fuck? Is this normal? Turns out, there was a hidden bee’s nest underneath one of the slides and the kids were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next day, a little girl was brought into the office by one of her teachers. She was trying to catch her breath and her face was red from crying, there were tears running down her cheeks and her shirt, her arms and her hands were covered in blood. Yes, real blood. Turns out, she had fallen, hit and split her head open. It was one of those situations where you don’t want to look but you sort of want to look but then you definitely don’t want to look. I was sitting there trying to keep my cool while everyone else calmly tended to her as if nothing had happened, like she wasn’t covered in blood – possibly severely injured? I mean, I don’t know what I thought happened in the office of a preschool but bee attacks and spit open heads were not two of them. Other – maybe normal? – things I didn’t expect: vendors randomly stopping by to pitch products and programs, biweekly visits from a fish expert to talk about the livelihood of the school’s fish tank (and generally overeducate everyone on fish species, fish baby making and fish chemicals via several personal anecdotes), hermit crab purchasing spurred by a guinea pig allergy and followed up by a guinea pig giveaway, a mix up with a school lockdown, a literally insane amount of back-to-school preparation and paperwork (like, thousands of pieces of paper), the constant stream of traffic in and out of the office and non-stop, on-the-fly problem solving.
- There is a special place in heaven for those who can genuinely care for 100+ kids AND remember all of their names – let alone their parents’ names, occupations, life details, family vacations and each kids’ unique characteristics. I don’t think I’m bad with names but I don’t foresee me ever memorizing all of the kids’ names in my kids’ classes. And I know it’s not my job to know their names but it would be nice, right? It would be nice to know which kid my son is talking about when he’s telling me a story but I don’t, even though I want to. There was something amazing about watching the administrators greet everyone who came in the door by name, to see them asking questions about their evenings or about family events that must have just occurred or were upcoming. Every interaction was different and personalized. If a child was behaving differently than normal, the administrators and staff were able to point to possible changes at home that may be affecting them, they genuinely cared and listened – to EVERYONE. It was obviously they wanted to do best by their families and the kids. It’s easy for us parents to get tied up in our kid and our interactions with the teacher but we need to remember these people are in charge of 100+ kids and 90+ families. The teachers don’t have just one or two or three kids, they have 20+. There is a special place in heaven for the administrators, directors and teachers out there who genuinely care, who remember the names, who remember the vacations, who spend their own money and who stay up at night worrying about OUR kids.
- Parents are the WORST. I can say this because I am a parent. And I mean, honestly, being the worst – when it comes to other people dealing with our kids – is sort of our MO, right? We tend to get a little uppity about how their cared for when we’re not around. We get a little over cautious about the kids they’re playing with and how those kids treat them or speak to them when we’re not there. We get anxious about how well our detailed discipline methods are being implemented. We get picky about the food they’re being served. Ultimately, our kids are our responsibility and so it makes sense. But if you generally love your center and trust the people who work there, don’t just trust them half-ass because you can, just trust them because you can. Don’t pick apart the lunch menu because you’re not sure if everything is certified organic or the produce is fresh 100% of the time. Don’t pick apart how they run their fundraisers because you’d rather it be more convenient for you or because you’re able to pay to attend everyone should have to pay to attend. Don’t get all huffy if your son comes home in pink polka-dotted leggings because you forgot to leave extra clothes. Pick and choose your battles. These people are trying to do the absolute best by EVERY family they care for while dealing with regulations, guidelines and budget restrictions. If you do have concerns or irritations, don’t complain – communicate, like an adult who respects what your directors and teachers do, I’m assuming they don’t get paid enough to put up with parental dramatic bullshit considering all of the discussions I overheard about taking and finding second jobs.
- An extra thank you goes a long, long way. Maybe it’s because we pay so much to send our kids to preschool that it feels like our centers and educators are just SUPPOSED to be perfect, maybe it’s because it’s SO hard to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of our often off-schedule routines – whatever it may be, we tend to take them for granted. We wait for teacher appreciation week or until our kids are moving out of classrooms. We wait for holidays and special occasions. But we shouldn’t wait. We should make it a point to take a look around at the chaos once in a while and put ourselves in their shoes, we should take the time to attribute our kids’ happiness and wellbeing to their hard work and dedication – and we should thank them for it on the spot. We shouldn’t just sit around at family gatherings and tell our family and friends how great our centers and teachers are (GUILTY), we should TELL THEM! Being in the space with these people and getting to see all of the kids so happy and so well cared for made me realize the amount of work that goes into running a high quality early learning center and a early learning classroom. Every now and then I’d overhear a parent graciously thanking the director or the teachers for being there and helping their family through a difficult stage in not only their child’s life but their’s and long after the parents had left, the words still lingered and the staff still beamed. Even my heart felt full and I literally had nothing to do with any of it. These people aren’t doing this job because they make millions, they’re doing it for those moments, because they CAN make a difference. We should give them more of those moments, they deserve it.
- Prioritize you kids’ education. Just recently I was talking about how Matty had entered the preschool program at our center and I had someone ask me what exactly that meant. I excitedly started to explain that he’d be getting to do more things like fine arts and cooking class. I didn’t get much further before I heard our friends laughing in disbelief. And I get it, I do – it sounds pretentious, maybe even ridiculous – but let me tell you, and I’m in no way saying high quality child care is marked by a cooking class and fine arts class, high quality early learning and child care is so fucking important. Spending the last couple of months at the center, I’ve become exposed to case studies and videos and programs all aiming to share the long-term benefits of high quality early learning, and maybe I’m brainwashed, but if you have any doubts in any way about your center or your kids’ care takers, there are so many really good ones out there and THEY ARE WORTH IT. Your babies shouldn’t have to settle. Don’t think because they’re just babies, they don’t need a learning program (a baby’s cerebellum triples in size in it’s first year and I’ve heard some argue it’s the most important time for development). I know it can be expensive but the long-term benefits are there if you can make it work. And if you can’t, you’d be amazed at the grants or financial programs some centers and programs have for eligible families. If your at all on the fence about the worth, trust me when I say there is more and more research saying it’s worth it. And if there’s no way you can afford the center you want or the child care you’re looking for or maybe they don’t have openings, call those places and speak to their directors or administrators and ask them for their advice – I’ve seen it work out first hand through volunteering at our center, these people are community resources and they want to help you!