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Kindergarten Expectations

Iram Khan

why do teachers complain so much? They get two months off in the summer, Christmas vacation and spring break. They also only have to work for 6 hours, including a 15 minute coffee break and 40 minute lunch break. Teachers have it better than most people in this country. They should quit their whining.

I have lost count of how many times I've heard the above rant. When anyone finds out that I am a teacher, I prepare myself to be lead into an argument. Then, when I reveal that I am a Kindergarten teacher, it gets worse. There is a perception that teachers are lazy, and that Kindergarten teachers are the worst. An administrator once didn't allow relief time to a Kindergarten teacher in his school to perform testing because all she did was "play all day."

Teachers obviously do a lot, but are expected to do much more as the years go by. Combine this with helplessness over the academic abilities of students entering the educational system each September. By this I mean that parents are not required to teach their children anything before the age of 4. (As an aside, private schools and the growing number of "traditional" schools within public school districts are allowed to prescreen prospective students) .

Increasingly, I greet children in September who know no English or do not know how to use pencils, crayons, glue, or scissors. Over the course of one school year, I am expected to provide learning opportunities to improve these children's fine and gross motor skills, social skills, and academic skills. Since there are people in high places who think that Kindergarten is all about playing, there have been increased academic requirements. However, even the child who has come in with no knowledge of English, no exposure to socializing with other children, or experience with basic school supplies is expected to be ready for Grade One in ten months.

Don't get me wrong, I love teaching Kindergarten. I really do. Nothing excites me more than a child "getting it" or being exposed to something for the first time. As a Kindergarten teacher, I cannot imagine a greater privilege in my field than being entrusted as these children's "first teacher." I also love working with parents; I am here to ease any qualms about their child's progress, as well as to help them support their child's learning at home.

When I come home from school, as my family can attest to, I recount humorous events, or inspiring successes, that occurred during the day. Yes, I rant a bit from time to time, but it's the prior type of events that keep me going. My sister once told me, "You have so much fun at school, and the kids love you... you have the best job! I do have the best job.

A couple of years ago, I had just gathered a group of four and five year olds for "calendar time" at the carpet. As I began the lesson I saw a small ball roll up to my feet out of the corner of my eye. A hand then quickly reached out and grabbed it. Before I knew it a little boy snatched the ball up and held it to my face in his shaking hand. It was then I then realized that the small ball was this boy's glass eye, needing to be put back in its rightful spot. Without thinking, I held on to his face, pulled open his eye lid, and popped the "eye" back in. The boy, relieved, quickly sat down and tried to act like nothing had happened. By this time, my class was horrified. They thought that his "real" eye had fallen out. I never thought that I would have to go through this experience, but this is the world of Kindergarten... controlled chaos.

The hardest part of my job though, is definitely dealing with parents. A teacher's job is made all the more difficult by:

Lack of parental support for their child's growth at home is going to have a major impact on their school performance. If a child in my class comes to me in September with no skills at all, and does not get support from home, they will not "meet expectations" by June. I can suggest that they stay back and repeat Kindergarten, but ultimately it's the parents decision. A parent can refuse, even if the child has missed over half the year of school.

If you are a parent of, or know, a child who will be entering Kindergarten in September, here are some basics that, in my opinion, children should be exposed to before Kindergarten:

Education does not begin in Kindergarten. By the time a child enters Kindergarten, they have already had over four years of life experience. Imagine how much learning can be done in that time. As well, consider how much easier it would be if parents and teachers worked together, and if it was recognized that Kindergarten isn't just about playing games.

Iram Khan is preparing to spend her summer teaching summer school.

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