A Day’s Work: Preschool teacher

(Photo by Dawn Green)

(Photo by Dawn Green)

Elise Crist teaches the four-year-old preschool class at Children’s Workshop in Twin Maples Plaza. She has worked with preschool students for ten years.

How does one get into this line of work?

I’ve always had a love for children. I was babysitting from a very young age. Children fascinate me: how fast they learn, how quick they pick up on things. I knew I wanted to work with kids. I knew I didn’t want to be in the school system as a teacher, but the passion is still with kids. It’s more of the psychology behind it.

What educational background do you need?

For kindergarten through twelfth grade you need a master’s in education. Preschool you don’t need a master’s degree, you can still have a bachelor’s degree. I have my degree in early childhood education, and then I went on and got my master’s degree in child psychology and mental health counseling. Eventually I’d like to work with play therapy one-on-one or in a small group setting.


What sort of person makes a good preschool teacher?

You have got to have patience. You have to understand that they come from different backgrounds. Some parents work with the kids before they get here. I’ll have a kid enter my classroom who knows all of his alphabet, all of his colors, all of his shapes. Then I’ll have somebody who doesn’t know anything because they weren’t introduced to it. They’re all on different scales, so it’s really just patience and getting to recognize what kids knows what, and getting them all on the same level. You have to be flexible, too. If something isn’t working, you have to be able to veer off.

How do you handle student who might not all be coming to you with the same skills?

It’s really repetition. Each week we do one letter, one color, one shape. Three weeks in they’re all writing the letter F.

At first, one of my kids couldn’t do the straight line down on letter F, when all the other kids were on to the next step. I knew that now it’s not just letter time I have to work with him on it. I have to work with him during center time to do it again. They get additional time until they start picking up on it.

How much do you plan and how much is dictated by curriculum or standards?

Since we are a part of two other schools, the other teachers get together and come up with the weekly themes, and then each teacher gets projects and centers based off of that. I don’t know what we ever did without Pinterest, honestly! [The image sharing website.]

The preschool teachers are very good with giving each other ideas. If I give the three-year-old teacher my idea, she can adapt it. She might have to cut something out instead of letting the kids do it.

What’s a common misconception about the work?

That it’s easy and you’re just playing with kids all day long. Yeah, we get to play, but it’s teaching them how to share, how to play with other children the right way. I enjoy my job, but I’m exhausted at the end of the day.

How are the hours?

I do preschool from 9 a.m.–12 p.m., but I’m working in the facility from 7:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. We only do the academic portion for three hours, then we have nap time, lunch time. They have free play in the morning before we start, and in the afternoon.

If I have to be out for an appointment or anything, they’re good about it. They’re not going to put some random person in my place. They’re going to have somebody who knows the ropes. My assistant, Shannon, knows our curriculum and routine and she’ll step in.

What makes for a really good day?

Staff being in good moods. If somebody is having an off day, the kids pick up on it too. If the kids are in good moods and the staff is in a good mood, we can have fun.

A bad day?

If we can’t go outside and get fresh air. That half hour we go outside lets the kids run and scream. They can get their energy out. When we’re cooped up inside it’s hard.

How has the job changed since you started?

The academics. Since they need to know more in kindergarten, we have to teach them more in preschool. At the end of the year, our kids know how to write their name. Ten years ago, these kids weren’t writing their names. Now that’s expected.

Do you see yourself at this same job ten years from now?

I wouldn’t be completely disappointed if I was still a preschool teacher, because I do enjoy it. But since I do have an education in child psychology, that would be the field I’d like to get into.

How’s the pay?

It’s decent. It really is. It’s higher than minimum wage, and our boss is very good at recognizing who excels in their job and pays based on their experience. What job couldn’t pay more? But when it comes down to it, it is decent pay.