Reflections of a (Christian) kindergarten teacher

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” (Deut 11:18-21)

Come October 2020, I will have worked as a preschool teacher for five years, and I must say, working with children can be either the most satisfying or the most frustrating experience. There is so much satisfaction in seeing children learn, grow and mature, yet when the oh-so-human inclination to disobey kicks in and they refuse to listen despite repeated warnings, frustration definitely creeps in. Having taught the Kindergarten One and Two classes for the past three years, and now, caring for the little ones in the Pre-Nursery and Nursery Two classes, I have had the meaningful experience of getting a thorough taste of both in equal measure.

There is a commonly held misconception that children are naturally innocent and good, and while children can be cute and fun to be with, all of them prove to have the very same disposition to sin as the next adult, as I am sure most (Christian) parents would agree. I have heard the parents of the kindergarten children say, “Oh, telling him that that’s wrong can wait until later, he’s still young,” or, “She will grow out of it.” Well, if a child is never taught that a particular behaviour or attitude is wrong, how will he or she grow out of it? Worse comes to worst, instead

of growing out of bad behaviour, the child grows into it, and the behaviour becomes a habit. The youngest child in my class this year is as tall as my knee, and at barely two-and-a-half years of age, has a stubborn streak that is wider than I am tall. The other teachers visit my class just for a glimpse of her and to coo at how adorable she is, but they do not see the silent temper tantrums she throws when she does not get her way. Lesson learnt: Children can and should be taught right from wrong at a young age, in certain and specific ways.

But it is not just about telling them what to do or what not to do, is it? Children are really observant of things where adults are sometimes not, and I think one of the scariest questions they can ask is “What are you doing, and why are you doing that?” A few years ago, I was helping a colleague of mine during lunchtime at school. The children were having fried rice that day, and there were pieces of shredded carrot in each portion. My colleague caught sight of one of the children industriously picking out every single piece of carrot (children are very tenacious in picking out food that they don’t like, even if each piece is tiny) and said, “Stop picking out the carrots and eat them!” She then sat down and started on her own meal, which was… soup with large chunks of carrot in it. No points for guessing what my colleague did. A few moments later, another child piped up, “Teacher, why aren’t you eating your carrots?” And I thought, “Great way for you to dig a hole for yourself there!” But that drives home a point: The things that you say need to match the things that you do, especially in front of children, otherwise they will point out the discrepancies between action and word in the loudest, most embarrassing way ever.

Anyhow, regardless of whether I teach the children in my class right from wrong, or if my doing matches my teaching, there is only so much I can do as a kindergarten teacher. The children are with me for three hours every day when there’s school, and though I am a Christian teacher in a Christian school, I cannot take the place of what is taught and caught at home. I am limited by the Kindergarten structure and the amount of time I actually spend with each child, given the short school hours and large class sizes. As much as parents want the best schools, teachers and opportunities for their children, I believe that the ultimate best that Christian parents can actually do for their children is to encourage them to imitate you as you imitate Christ. Teach them about Christ, show them how lovely He is and how good it is to follow in His footsteps.

– Rebecca Li