Friday, March 9, 2012


I remember standing on a covered porch with two of my sisters. The year was 2000. I think the season was fall; it seems as if there was a slight chill in the air. We were standing close together, clustered almost. One or two of us might have been smoking a cigarette. I don't remember that for certain.

We were talking about an article one of us had recently read about what motivates people. There were a handful of options, and the idea was that people can be categorized by which choice is their primary motivator. The only two I remember are having fun and being competent, although I'm sure there were at least two or three other possibilities.

Being competent, we all agreed, was our primary motivator. I think it was me who added: I've gone years without having any fun!, although it could have been one of my sisters. And then we all chuckled.

I'm pleased to report that I'm a lot more fun than I used to be (cue the chuckling), but I'm still highly motivated by competence.

* * *

I miss teaching parenting classes. It was such a great job and -sadly- I don't see another opportunity to do it in the future. I could be wrong about that, but it seems to me that programs that include a parenting education component are few and far between. The non-profit that the district I worked for collaborated with is struggling to fund their parenting programs. It was just the sheer luck of the program design that allowed me to be a certified early childhood teacher and work for a GED program that served parents along with their young children. I stumbled into it, and ended up so passionate about the work. It was a whole new direction for me when I started, and it terrified me, if I'm honest. But by the end it was my very favorite part of the job.

One of the first parenting classes I taught was in a small room that a local library let us use for free. I stood at the front, jammed into a corner too close to a hissing radiator, and asked a question. I didn't know anyone in the group of women sitting in front of me. All of them were high school dropouts, mothers, living in poverty. No one answered. I stood there, and waited for the silence to grow uncomfortable. It grew uncomfortable for me. I repeated wait time, wait time, wait time, wait time in my head. Finally, after an excruciating period of thickening quiet, it grew uncomfortable for them. I saw a look on a face that meant someone was thinking about answering. I gave some form of encouragement. And the conversation began.

I didn't particularly like my job that day. But over time, as I mastered new skills, and was able to work with a team of colleagues I absolutely adored to implement changes we thought would improve the program, I grew to love it.

* * *

It's funny though. While I mastered parenting classes, and writing reports, and analyzing data, and managing a team, I moved further and further away from the children: the reason I was hired in the first place. My presence in the classroom was replaced with a teaching assistant, so I would have time to do the planning and paperwork required to coordinate the program. I developed a thematic curriculum that covered the year, and we used it alongside a home-visiting curriculum with individualized activities for each child based on their age in months, so planning curriculum wasn't an ongoing process anymore. My hands-on work with the kids became a smaller part of my job. I still possessed the skills, but I didn't practice them regularly. I played with my son at home, and applied my skills there, but he's only one person, and an easy one to teach at that, so my skills weren't stretched; I wasn't challenged in a way that took me out of my comfort zone or required more of me than I had at my fingertips.

And, to be honest, I didn't know that this new job would challenge me either. I had enough experience that I felt comfortable resting on my laurels. I thought I'd soar in, and that it would be easy. And certainly I'm a competent babysitter. But I don't want to be just a babysitter. I want to master my craft. And it's taken some time to get back in the swing of things with the little ones: observing, planning, carrying out, reflecting, correcting, tweaking, and repeating. I very much miss teaching parenting classes. But I don't have to miss teaching or parenting. I still get to do those every day.

* * *

I feel like I'm getting good at this! I said to my husband the other night over dinner. It took me a couple months to settle in, and then to realize that I just plain couldn't keep up with the cleaning and still teach. And it took some time for the kids to get to know each other too. It seems like all I did for months was work on social-emotional skills, which was necessary, but it got boring for me. Now our little group has gelled, and the kids are a little older. I can really do stuff with them! I'm feeling like I'm good at this!

In the past month we've made play dough out of used coffee grounds, painted valentines with tempera paint, made rainbow spaghetti with food coloring, made and used homemade glue (for my littles who eat everything) for crafts projects, gone on a field trip to an art show, walked to the park in the wind, mixed snow with food coloring, chosen our favorite nursery rhymes on youtube, and read and reread more books than we've changed diapers (okay, it's pretty close to even there).

I'm getting more competent as I observe the kids and respond to their needs and interests. And I enjoy things so much more when I'm competent.


  1. Now I'm trying to figure out what motivates my girls and, sadly, I have no idea. I love the intention you bring into your interactions with children though. It's really inspiring! I wish I could take one of your parenting classes!

    Have you thought about putting that into your blog somehow? Writing what you used to teach?

    1. I have thought about how I could integrate that. Eventually I'd like to add a tab to the education blog w/my resume. My fantasy is that I could put all the things I'm professionally interested in into that spot, and then it could help me find work that's right up my alley.

      But I'm not sure how it would work, since it's the stories of our day to day. I suppose if I write for a while about what we're learning I could possibly segue into why early childhood education is important and especially for children in poverty. I have a real passion for working with families in poverty. There's so much rhetoric out there that says (or implies) that they're "unteachable" because schools in poverty are often failing schools (my district for instance). I found that to be so UNtrue in my work. The problem is poverty; we DON"T know how to solve that. But poor people are just as capable as anyone else of learning, provided we find what motivates them and tap into it (and also assuming they've eaten, slept, etc. Chronic stress is a huge problem for IQ and kids in poverty. Hard to learn when you're stuck in fight or flight mode all the time.). I'm not sure how to combine the interests though. And I think that for right now I just need to focus on becoming a better early childhood teacher. Then maybe the interests will intersect in the future?

      I'm going to write about "flow" soon, the process of being completely engaged and joyful while learning. I think you'll recognize a lot about your girls when you read it. I see you observing and documenting flow on your blog!

  2. **Not to mention, I'm glad you're finding your stride! Competency is a wonderful feeling! :-)