As a year-long volunteer addressing racial, economic, and social injustices, my main focus in Philadelphia…
Working with preschoolers is exhausting, challenging, and emotionally/mentally draining. It’s not all fun and games. There is a schedule. There is a system. We are there to teach them and most times, they do not care for learning but would much rather play! We are not their friends, playmates, babysitters, but teachers. Most of them have been in daycares but some of them are new to schedules and structure. They do not understand the importance of sitting down with the class and learning. They want to play, explore, run, and have fun with friends. Sometimes they grow upset with you because you will not allow them to do what they want. They hit you, try to bite you, kick you, pinch you, and push your buttons while wearing a smile because they know they are successfully getting under your skin. Sometimes they accidentally pee on you. Other times, they scream and cry when you take them to the bathroom or try to help them wash their hands. They throw a tantrum and sit on the floor. They tell you, “No!” when you ask them to do something.
You go home and your bedtime is ten but instead, you fall asleep at seven because you’re so tired from working with kids. Working with kids is exhausting.
Working with preschoolers is also rewarding. You make them laugh with the most simple things. You watch them learn and feel proud because they know something new. They tell you all about their lives. They run up to you and hug you when you walk through the door. They feel safe and comfortable telling you something. They trust you. When parents drop them off, they cry but then raise their arms to you because they know they can get through the day as long as you’re there. Parents tell you all their child talks about is you. They wrap their tiny arms around you so tight when they get picked up. They’re my students and here are some of my favorite moments with my students:
- C.A. is always ready to help me out when I ask for help. Sometimes I’ll pretend a container with books is too heavy to carry and only C.A. can help me. He will run over to me, grab the other side of the container and with a deep voice say, “Come on. Come on.” I know that’s his way of telling me he’s got my back and together we can carry that container of books to the table or rug. I always thank him for the help and he looks proud of himself for helping out his teacher.
- J.P. is a quiet kid. He is less talkative and I always find it rare when he says a word. During a quick visit from my supervisor, she told J.P. and his brother to repeat after her. Say, “Mx Alex.” (Mx is a title like Mr. or Ms. but taking out the gender.). Without missing a beat, both boys said my name. Hearing J.P. say my name for the first time, after working with him for two months, it warmed my heart.
- N.P. is adorable when waking up from a nap. He is usually half awake after a nap so he is quiet which is unusual. One time, he awoke and approached Brittany, the other teacher, with his shoes. Before falling asleep, he took them off and now wanted Brittany to put them on. Brittany and I just looked at him and chuckled because of the funny expression on his face. When Brittany did not immediately grab his shoes from him, he slowly waddled over to me and lifted his shoes to me. With another chuckle, I sat him down and put his shoes on. He always looks so serious after a nap.
- A.D. became sick one day. While the other students went outside to play, I remained in the classroom with her until her mother arrived to take her home. A.D. is a student who usually ignores me when I speak to her but during this moment, we had a nice time as we waited. I played music for her so she wouldn’t be bored and I sat next to her. We watched the videos and she told me everything she was seeing. It was something simple and small, but it was the first time we were able to talk.
- A.F. is a child I felt a connection to after hearing a child tell him he could not paint his nails because he is a boy. There were moments when he would pretend he was wearing a dress. One time, he wore a scarf on his head and acted like it was long hair. He was always drawn to the baby dolls. He was “different” and I saw that as a beautiful thing. Only three and not fitting into the gender binary. A.F. moved onto another class and those two times I saw him pass by our class the day he left, it made me happy to see him doing well with the change and it made me realize how much I missed him.
- M.H. is a big sister to all the students. One of my other students was crying for her mother. As I was trying to comfort the crying student, M.H. showed up to hug her classmate and tell her everything would be okay. This was not the first time I have seen her acting like a big sister. With the three youngest students in the class, I always see her approaching them when they are upset. She holds their hands or hugs them and they happily accept the warmth and love from M.H.
- A.W. hates being dropped off in the morning. One of the people who works with me in the mornings usually takes her from her parents but this time, as I approached her to say good morning, A.W. extended her arms out to me. Since that day, I always approach her and she immediately extends her arms out to me. Her mother has mentioned to me that A.W. talks about me when she is home and nothing makes me happier than knowing the safety she feels with her parents, she feels that with me as well.
- F.M. was a student who was in a daycare before preschool. According to my supervisor, F.M. did not do well in daycare because she would cry every day until her mother picked her up. So, on her first day at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, her mother had a lot of anxiety about leaving her daughter. The moment the mother left, F.M. began crying but I immediately grabbed her, sat her on my lap, and spoke to her about Sesame Street. She stopped crying. Mornings are difficult for her as well but when her mother leaves, I swoop in and talk to her. It only takes a few minutes for her to become talkative and relaxed.
- D.D. loves and respects Brittany but for some reason, reaches out to me more. When he needs or wants something, I always see him raising his hand and calling out my name. During an activity, Brittany was closer to him but instead of reaching out to her, he called me until I looked at him. I don’t know how or when this happened but it seems he’s calling out to me almost every day now, multiple times. He’s a great kid and an amazing dancer!
- A.M. had a tough first morning at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. He cried and held onto his mother. Knowing he was my student, I walked over and picked him up. I moved away from the door to give his mother a chance to leave without him seeing. I approached a door with pictures of animals and asked which one was his favorite. We pointed at the pictures and talked about the animals. He was happy for the rest of the day.
- J.R. gave me my normal hug when he was picked up by his mother. As I was holding him, I jokingly said I was taking him home with me. He immediately held on tighter and said he wanted to go home with me. He even said bye to his mom and we shared a laugh at that. When I tried to put him down, he wrapped his legs around me because he did not want to let me go. I had to trick him into his mother’s arms. Another time, the same thing happened but this time he said I was coming home with him.
Alex Errodas: Philadelphia, PA