I sit here and ponder a situation that occured two years ago. I believe it would be prudent to share with other individuals as this is a scenerio that all parents and educators have grappled with to some degree. The dilemma of balancing emergencies at home with our professional responsibilities.
Today started off as an uneventful day. The morning program was running extremely smoothly. The children were all compliant. This is a scenario that does not occur too often. As the morning program came to a close I exited towards my car. I retrieved my cell phone. One voice mail was extremely startling. My husband was en route to the hospital. My son had been in a collision and was en route via ambulance. My fight or flight instinct kicked in. I calmly called the hospital and told them I was on the way. The mother I am, conflicted with the educator I function as. I calmly went back into work and told my supervisor my son had been in a car accident.
The supervisor stated that family always comes first. Nevertheless, I informed her that I would try my best to make it back for the afternoon program. My son suffered a mild concussion. My husband was to be home for the afternoon so I knew my son was in good hands. I emailed my supervisor and told her I would be able to resume work in the afternoon. My company was short handed. I knew the only person Site coordinator qualified was my boss. The responsible side echoed in my head. I could not expect my supervisor to cover my position and her own as well. My conscience grappled with my educational responsibility and my personal ones. Although, I opted to shut out my parental guilt, for returning to the classroom it did not mean my son was not in my heart.
Upon returning in the afternoon, my supervisor said “why are you here?” I explained that I felt a personal responsibility to my students and place of employment. My husband would call if the necessitated. As mentioned in class, one must always present a degree of professionalism. The ability of my role as an educator was tested today. My ability to separate personal issues from professional was exemplary. This happened to be a day when the children chose to challenge me. When requested to enter circle time, the children were sitting everywhere but in a circle!!! I calmly joked that perhaps I needed to place tape on the floor like the preschool uses. As school age children, the thought of being equated with a preschooler was a fate worse than death. They quickly formed a perfect circle and circle time was uneventful. Homework support was a challenge.
I managed to assist several children of multiple ages through their homework. My mind secretly wandered to thoughts of my son. I secretly wished for an assistant so I could get homework support done at a quicker pace. I caught my self wandering and refocused on the children time and time again. The jovial demeanor I presented to the children belied my real emotions under the surface. The children were never aware of what I grappled with. I have dealt with the toughest part of being an educator today. This is separating my human side from the educator.
The cohesiveness of my colleagues was also realized. As is probably evident, accepting help from others is not my strong point. I gravitate towards being the helper, not the helped. My supervisor has picked up on this fact. She was helping without being intrusive. She knew I would decline the help. Snack for the children was delivered to my class. I normally pick it up myself. A thank you note for all I do was in my mail box at the end of the day. She organized my class even though that fact was not made public. Having support on the school front makes traumatic times slightly more palatable.My demeanor is calmer. My son is at home. My friends are checking in on him. I know he is safe from mishaps as bed rest has been warranted for a mild concussion.
My program started off with an eventful scenario. A child vomited all over the rug. All first aid was done. Her temperature was taken and I attempted to clean up the room. The child was in tears. I attempted to comfort her with six other children at my ankle. The other children were demanding my attention. Attention that I couldn’t feasibly give at the moment. I attempted to keep judgment out of the scenario. I realized the other children needed guidance as well as the sick child. As much as I wanted to deem them all incorrigible brats, incapable of empathizing for their ill peer, I couldn’t. I stepped back, recalled what it was like to be a child and reminded myself that I responded with the same behavior at their age.
I processed the whole situation while continuing to comfort the little girl. I needed to divert the attention of the other children and keep them occupied. I decided that necessity warrants flexibility. These children were old enough to understand what a special privilege was. They were allowed to play the coveted play station and computer which was generally open for one hour in the afternoon. Children are only given ten minute time slots to play. The children were ecstatic.
Opening their coveted activities in the morning was a novelty. Their focus on the activity was strong. I was now free to give undivided attention to the other child. The child’s mother was called. A voice mail was left as she was not available. Two emergency contacts were working in Boston thus it would present difficulty for them to zoom down and pick up the child. I made a make shift rest area for the child complete with a pillow in a private area of the room. The human side of me was frustrated that the mother had not responded to our phone calls. My mind ran rampant with judgmental thought. As the readings have suggested, educators need to make a conscious effort not to judge a family. The realities of the readings were soon validated.
The girl’s mom responded several hours later. She works at a minimum wage job and did not have the option to check her cell phone messages. The mother rushed in the door and had already called the child’s pediatrician en route to the school. Her face was fraught with concern for her little girl. I silently experienced the feeling of personal embarrassment. I was ashamed for assuming that this woman was being neglectful because she did not immediately respond to my phone call. I broke a cardinal rule of educators. The rule that states we should always look below the surface of a situation. An educator’s role is to assist children towards positive self efficacy. If we let our own bias decide how we handle a situation, it can be deleterious for the child. This child’s mother is attempting to make ends meet for this little girl and her younger sister.
This day played as much of a role in educating me as my course work does. I felt that I was immune to preconceived bias and judgment. Today emphasized the fact that I am as fallible as any of my peers. I have learned to consciously observe situations from the inside out. Not from the outside in. What lies below the surface of any given situation or behavior is more informative to an educator. A well known phrase would be appropriate to emphasize right now. “You can’t tell a book by its cover”.Today my son returned to school driving my truck. I left the house at 5:30 in the morning with a stern warning to him. He was to call me and leave a voice mail on my cell phone stating that he arrived safely. The day was gray and rainy as it was on Monday when the accident occurred.
I kept my wits about me and oversaw a morning arts and crafts session of paintings made from shaving cream, glue, and food coloring. I marveled at the different personalities and how they approached this project with various levels of interest. One child wanted to paint, but does not like to get his hands dirty. He was perfectly content to be involved in the project as long as he could spread the puffy colored shaving cream concoction with his fingers. Another child not only stuck her hands in the contents, but mixed the colors to create other colors.
She not only painted the paper, but proceeded to paint her arms up to her forearm. She than put some of the greenish mixture she developed on her chin and created a beard. I believe children learn through exploration. Every child is an individual who needs to be respected as such. I still make attempts to get children to step out of there box and accept safe challenge. Challenge is a learning experience. If children are not exposed to new experiences their view of the environment remains quite limited. A balance is necessary to assist a child to step out of the box. Too much challenge can reverse the affect of assisting a child in accepting safe risk taking. Too much challenge causes a child to retreat into a shell. I step back and observe. I consciously halt my ability to judge instead of assess. Those are two very different forms of observation.
Assessing can aid in creating a plan that assists a child in positive developmental growth. Judging causes preconceived notions that can breed deleterious surroundings were personalities that retreat verse accepting risk are more common than not. My first inclination would be to assess the child who doesn’t want to get dirty as living in a family of obsessive compulsive siblings and parents. I am truly drawn to the child who spreads greenish shaving cream concoctions gleefully over her arms. As a good educator, I remind myself that the apprehensive little boy is merely shy and cautious. I developed a strategy to help him try new things. He is allowed to spread shaving cream paint with a plastic spoon. I than deposited a small dab of shaving cream on his finger.
I allay some fears by explaining that the dye will not permanently stain his hands. He is than guided towards the bathroom to wash it off with soap and water. The little boy realizes that the color is not permanent. I have gained his trust. The boy actually allows me to make a handprint painting of his hand with the concoction. I am feeling pretty good about my success with the little boy. I have been in a professional world where I shut off my personal life. As I step out the door at work it is like traveling through a time portal. I enter another dimension.
This dimension is called the real world. I flick off my professional persona like a light switch. I now resume my life as a parent. I run to my car and check my phone. No voice mail from my son. I spend the next couple of hours feeling numb. He finally arrives home. I was informed that my son forgot to call me. Words passed between us about consideration. I than realized, my college age son is not much different than the children in the program. He is still learning from experience as the children do. Only at a more advanced level. The children need experiences to grow and develop. Young adults can’t comprehend the fear of a parent who fears for their son when they do not call. Young adults have not yet had the experience to empathize with a scared parent. Without experience we do not learn or understand. I find it funny how educators’ jobs become intermingled with our personal lives. In a standard professional job an office door can be shut and one can forget about the world. When working with children, we are constantly surrounded by questions, demands, and no personal space. When going home to our family, we are surrounded with questions, demands, and no personal space as well. It is quite a parallel existence. An educator’s life never ends.
Mar N. M.Ed., CECE