The Role of the Teacher in the Preschool Years

Hazel Masiko (Grade R practitioner and Vice principal of the Ububele Pre-school)

A personal story:

I would like to begin this blog by sharing a story of a young boy who was in my class several years ago, and whose memory inspired the topic of this blog. Chippendale (his name has been changed for confidentiality) first came to Ububele Preschool when he was just 4 years old and had an articulation problem. His lack of language skills however did not hinder him from becoming a delightful, motivated and perceptive little boy. He always had a warm and friendly disposition and was confident.

On Monday mornings during the ‘weekend news’ activity, Chippendale would mumble and point around, talking in a language that only he could understand. Even though we could not understand him, his face would light up and he seemed to feel very excited about relating to me and his friends how his weekend had been.

The following year, Chippendale was retained because he still lacked language skills and his cognitive capabilities were not yet well-developed. With praise and recognition, Chippendale would enthusiastically participate and enjoy action songs. With class activities he would work diligently and conscientiously and he seemed to feel proud of his achievements.

He then started uttering the words “mama” and “papa”. The vocabulary grew to “garage”, “Alex” and “coke”. I would help him string the words together – “you went to Alex and bought a coke at the garage” for example. He would nod his head with delight because the teacher understood him. In class, Chippendale was never singled out as a child with a challenge; he was included in all class activities and spoken to like any other child. I think this made him feel accepted, safe, understood and cared for.

Towards the end of the second year, the little boy could say sentences and spoke more clearly. His determination and positive attitude helped him overcome his difficulty, although it was a slow and difficult process. To me, his teacher, he was a source of amazement and inspiration. Helping Chippendale rise above his limitations, gives me a pleasant and warm feeling of happiness and achievement.

“The marvellous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome” – Helen Keller (1980-1968)

preschool pic

The role of early childhood educators:

An essential part of a child’s successful early school learning is the quality of the teacher-child relationship and the abilities of teachers to provide a positive, consistent and responsive environment. All children have the right to meaningful participation in education.

If you have a good teacher who understands what young children’s learning us about and knows their subjects reasonably well, then you’ve gone a long way. It’s not about the facilities and curriculum, although we need a roof and clean toilets – It’s about the teacher!”

– Professor Elizabeth Henning, director of the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Education Practice Research, on the Soweto Campus.

Some of the responsibilities of early childhood educators:

  • To keep small children safe from harm
  • To help small children adjust with the separation from their parents each morning
  • To encourage children to find their own answers through play and exploration
  • To provide a developmentally appropriate environment filled with tools for play and learning (e.g.: clay, dolls, paper, balls etc.)
  • To listen carefully to a child’s needs, whether expressed verbally or non-verbally
  • To communicate and engage with parents, caregivers and other staff members

At the Ububele Preschool for example, the teachers attempt to increase children’s on-task behaviours, reading skills and academic competence. They learn best when exposed to the PQRST strategy:
P: participate

Q: question

R: reason and respond

S: use all senses

T: think for themselves

Some important skills that preschool teachers impart to their students are:

  • Teaching number work: counting, adding and subtracting using fingers, lids, acorns etc.
  • Enhancing language: through stories, theme discussions, news, songs and rhymes
  • Allowing free choice or play: they are able to communicate and identify problems

When the learners leave the Ububele pre-school for Grade 1, we often hear that they are doing well and managing with the new tasks set out for them in big-school!

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