Saturday, November 23, 2013

try to be smarter than a sea cucumber, please

I came across a story out of  Buffalo, New York that exemplifies the lack of social and emotional empathy that can be found in some teachers, and it made me fume. Apparently a pre-k teacher at the BUILD Academy was concerned with some of her students being dirty and giving off "unpleasant smells". Instead of working with the school nurse, principal, or social worker to find a reasonable solution she sent home a shaming note to the kiddos families, even going as far as telling them that it made it hard for her to "be close to them or even want to touch them". Wait, what?! Oh, hell no! This person should not be allowed to be a role model for young children because she apparently has the emotional intelligence of a sea cucumber. I will admit that finding strong teachers in early childhood education (ECE) is tough--many states simply require an Associates Degree (usually in ECE or a related field), and pre-k classroom teachers aren't given the in-depth training and resources that educational specialists or elementary-school level teachers get. If a teaching license was required, and teacher pay was close to reasonable, there would be much higher quality classroom teachers for young children. In this case however, the teacher simply appears to lack common sense and empathy. On a side note, the name of the school ironically stands for Build Unity, Integrity, Leadership, and Dignity.

If this teacher had wanted to make a positive difference and help improve the hygiene of her students she could have gone about it in much better ways. Host a monthly parent meeting with snacks and free childcare to get parents involved in their kids education. You could easily add in any hygiene concerns in a friendly, positive way during one of these sessions. Or, even better, create a hygiene curriculum for your classroom and teach the kiddos how to brush their hair & teeth, how to wash baby dolls in the sensory tub with soap and water, how to use the bathroom appropriately. Get local dentists in on the action and have them donate toothbrushes and toothpaste and do dental demonstrations for the class. Send home activities and suggestions for your kiddos and their families. Host a hygiene-drive, or a sock-drive, or a food-drive within your community and get some necessary personal items for your families. 

this needs to be posted in every classroom.
When I was a teacher in pre-k I worked in a lower-income part of the city. We had a wide variety of kiddos that spoke different languages, came from different countries, and had lived completely different lives than most of the teachers in our program. The only thing that I had in common with most of the families that I worked with was wanting the absolute best for their children, and that was enough to build a good, solid relationship (in most cases). Some of our kiddos did come to school in dirty clothes, or in five layers of worn & thin clothes when the weather was cold, or with unkept hair. Sometimes we would have to keep a sick kiddo in our classroom because a single mom couldn't catch the bus to come and pick him up before the district provided transportation arrived at the end of the day. There was one little guy that enrolled in my classroom who was from Ethiopia, and his family used a lot of different spices that I had  never encountered before; I am a lightweight when it comes to spices and spicy things. I was in my first trimester of my first pregnancy when he started in my room and there were some days when my nausea would be triggered by being too close to him for too long. Were any of these things the fault of the children? No. Were any of these things the fault of their parents? Nope. They were doing their best with what they had and what they knew. Yes, these things would get on our nerves as teachers, but we had to meet the parents where they were, so to speak, and understand that no one is perfect. This lesson has been permanently etched into my brain after having my own children and just doing my best to get by every day. Sometimes my kids wear the same clothes two days in a row, or they refuse to have their hair brushed and we leave it messy, but if they make it to school and are happy & safe then I feel that I have succeeded. At some point you learn to drop the pretentiousness and perfect-family facade that we all strive for and just be happy that your kids are healthy, safe, and in a place where they can get an education. In the BUILD Academy case, the teacher should be grateful that the kiddos families care enough to get them to school on a consistent basis so that they can have a positive start in life.


  1. How infuriating. Yes, having a sensory kiddo (or two) myself, I understand. Sometimes my 12-year-old wears makeup to school. Other mornings it's all I can do to get her to *mostly* brush her hair. I often have to send her back to her room for clothes that are appropriate to the weather. She has lost 4 coats at school within the last week. The other kid wants to play trains in the mornings and sometimes refuses to get dressed. If I try to force it, he kicks. I'm not going to make my day bad, so I put sneakers over his footy jammies and take him to school like that. My kids' teachers are just happy that the kids are at school and ready to learn. What a disgrace the teacher in the article is. Keep fighting the good fight.

  2. That's crazy. There are some days I come home feeling like a terrible teacher. But I would never think to do something like that. If I ever had concerns about a child's home environment, I'd first talk to the school admin to see what we could do. Starting unnecessary fights with parents isn't usually a good idea.