Unanticipated Responsibilities of a First-Time Preschool Teacher (Guest blogger: David Banzer)

I started teaching as a preschool teacher assistant. I had taken a couple human development course while completing my undergraduate degree in psychology, but had no real experience teaching in a preschool classroom. While working as a teacher assistant at Erie Neighborhood House’s early childhood program, a Head Start and Preschool for All program, I applied at an Alternative Certification program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This model of alternative certification gave me early childhood knowledge through coursework while allowing me to apply this knowledge directly to the classroom immediately. I was also working with an outstanding preschool teacher who provided me with an excellent model of appropriate teaching practices and genuine care for young children. When I finished the UIC program with teacher licensure, the lead teacher in my classroom left our center, I became the lead teacher in the classroom. I felt prepared to be successful in my teaching, but also had an understanding my teaching journey was just beginning. While I felt able in my abilities to teach, I knew that there was a great deal that I would need to learn as I had experiences as a teacher.

In my current role as an education coordinator supporting curriculum of an early childhood center at Erie House, and as a doctoral student at UIC teaching coursework in early childhood, I realize how rich my apprenticeship into preschool teaching was integral to my transition to becoming a teacher. I also understand that other teachers have not had experiences similar to mine.

While I was eased into becoming a lead teacher, early childhood teachers may find themselves in a teaching position directly out of a teacher preparation program with a great deal of responsibility that they had not anticipated. These responsibilities or unanticipated expectations could include the following:

  • Teaching team and team dynamics
  • Having supervision responsibilities for teaching assistants
  • Becoming a part of the school/center culture
  • Self-identifying areas for professional development
  • Developing systems of reflective practice

Teaching in an early childhood environment is a team effort. Preschool classrooms having teaching teams of 2-3 teaching staff, with a teacher leading, providing direction to teacher assistants, and in some cases being direct supervisors to their teacher assistants. This dynamic of teamwork requires effort for all teaching staff. There is a balance for a new teacher starting in a classroom where other teaching staff have worked for a long period of time. How does a teacher become the leader of this classroom when she relies on assistants to relay pertinent information about how the classroom runs, curriculum and assessment systems in place, and paperwork that needs to be completed daily? Within this team dynamic, a teacher may have supervision responsibilities for her teacher assistants that may affect how this team works cohesively. This is a situation that some teachers may find themselves in, and one they may need to consider and prepare themselves for.

Each school or early childhood center is unique. While pre-service teachers have experiences in student teaching, these school environments might not match the school where they begin teaching at. For example, a pre-service teacher may have a student teaching experience where teachers at the school might have had formal structures for sharing information and teaching practices, such as mentor relationships for peer learning groups. It is important to note that not all schools or centers will have these types of formal structures in place. To what extent do teachers take initiative to share ideas with other teachers, or ask for help? What type of feedback for instruction exists? Does the school primarily serve a specific population? These factors will affect the overall school culture that a teacher will find herself in. Additionally, there in a variety of early childhood settings, including Head Start centers, public schools, private daycare centers, parochial schools, &c. that teachers may be teaching at. These different types of settings will have unique experiences in administrative structures and teacher supports.

Finally, a key aspect of becoming a teacher is understanding that teaching is a lifelong process of development, growth, and reflection on teaching practices and the overall experience of being a teacher. To what extent are first year teachers aware of this? Understanding this humbling approach may play an important factor in how successful or stressful a teacher’s first year of teaching may be. While we hope that pre-service teachers leave programs with pedagogical and content knowledge in early childhood, the application of this knowledge takes time and requires knowing when to apply what knowledge. Entering a preschool classroom and expecting to implement project-based learning approaches during a teacher’s first week will likely not go well. Focusing on teacher-child relationships and getting to know the children in her classroom is likely a better approach rather than implementing more complex pedagogical practices. To what extent can a teacher reflect on her instruction and treat a bad day in the classroom as an opportunity for reflection and growth? How does she reflect in a way that serves to identify areas of instruction that she may want to improve? To what extent do teachers know when to seek out the help of others or look for professional resources and professional development opportunities?

The start of the school year can be a very stressful time for a new teacher in early childhood education. Learning aspects of a school’s culture, forming a cohesive teaching team, and reflecting on instructional experiences may not be what a first-time teacher anticipates when taking a new teaching position. Preparing early childhood educators to be successful includes not only teaching early childhood pedagogical and content knowledge, but also the realities of what being a teacher actually is. Understanding the factors outside of the actual teaching of young children, could prepare pre-service teachers on the beginning of their teaching journey.


David Banzer is a doctoral student in educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a focus on early math learning and instruction. He is currently the Education Coordinator of the early childhood program at Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago. He was previously a preschool teacher.

In Preschool GEOMETRY is NOT a Bad Word!! (Guest blogger: Sherial McKinney, M.S. Ed.)

Many times I hear people say that they didn’t like and/or didn’t understand Geometry in high school. Many say they do not see the importance of Geometry. However, we use Geometry all the time. Geometry is involved when we:

  • Use a map or GPS,
  • Put groceries away in a cupboard,
  • Rearrange a room,
  • Complete a puzzle,
  • Give directions or follow directions,
  • Pack a suitcase,
  • Park a car, and
  • Put on make-up

Geometry is one of the five content areas in mathematics. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) identifies these content standards for Pre-K through 12th grade.

  • Number and Operations
  • Measurement
  • Geometry
  • Algebra
  • Data Analysis and Probability

Young children already have and utilize some geometric concepts when they enter Pre-K that can be extended and built upon. In Prekindergarten, children are NOT doing proofs and formulas as many of us remember doing in our school careers. Young children are involved in experiences and activities that help them understand shapes, spatial relationships and the properties of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional objects.

NCTM points out in their Focus in Pre-K: Teaching with Curriculum Focal Points, “Geometry and measurement are two of the U.S. student’s weakest topics in mathematics. Even in the preschool years, children in the U.S. know less about shape than children in other countries.” As educators of young children, we need to recognize the importance of children’s knowledge and understanding of geometric concepts beyond circle, square, and triangle. This does NOT mean using flash cards or worksheets! It does mean giving children hands-on opportunities. As teachers of young children we need to be very intentional about planning opportunities, incorporating appropriate materials, and introducing and using math language and vocabulary for all of our students. Sally Moomaw states, “The more experiences children have with geometry in meaningful contexts, the more they can construct and solidify foundational concepts.”

The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute states Shapes and Spatial Thinking are Big Ideas in their book, Big Ideas of Early Mathematics: What Teachers of Young Children Need to Know. This is a guide to assist teachers in being more intentional and knowledgeable with their activities, questioning, and language regarding Geometry.


Defining and Classifying Shapes

 Sometimes, people think that young children only need to know the names of the basic shapes – circle, square, triangle, and rectangle.   The goal/outcome is deeper and more extensive. The goal is to help young children learn attributes of each basic shape. The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute uses the activity, “Feel for Shapes” to assist Pre-K students in recognizing shapes by using their sense of touch instead of their sense of sight. The Early Math Collaborative points out:

Children need to go beyond the use of superficial shape labels to recognizing and specifying the defining attributes of shapes. As children sort and classify shapes with knowledgeable others, they become aware of rules about shapes, such as that a triangle has three sides and three angles. -“Feel for Shapes,“ Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative website – www.earlymath.erikson.edu

2-Dimensional and 3-Dimensional Shapes

As teachers of young children, sometimes we focus a great deal on 2-D shapes. How often do we provide experiences and supportive math language with 3-D shapes? It is important to use the correct terms. We need to remember that a baseball is not a circle, it is a sphere.

As children are playing in the block area, we can point out how the flat faces of a solid cylinder are 2-D shapes which would be circles while pointing out that the entire solid 3-D block is called a cylinder. What other interest areas in the classroom can we focus on 2-D and 3-D shapes?

3-D Shapes – Ball is a sphere. The faces on each end of the cylinder are circles

Combining Shapes and Decomposing Shapes

 Children need time to explore shapes and discover that two triangles could make a square or six triangles can make a hexagon. Pattern blocks and unit blocks provide numerous opportunities for composing and decomposing shapes.

Children can also deconstruct a cereal box and see the different shapes and sizes of each side of the box. With assistance children can begin putting the box back together with tape.

As Creative Curriculum for Preschoolers from Teaching Strategies states in their Mathematics Volume that young children need “to recognize shapes, build with them, illustrate them in their own way, describe shape attributes, compare shapes, and sort them by their characteristics.” While doing this children are also working on other skills along with Geometry such as: fine motor as they draw, algebraic skills as they sort the shapes, measurement as they compare shapes, and language skills as they describe shapes during their play and in their conversations.

Spatial Thinking

 Describing Space

 Along with recognizing shapes, young children also need to be exposed to and utilize spatial thinking. The children are developing their understanding of where objects are in relationship to other objects, people, and/or places. Many of us think of using descriptive words only as a language skill instead of geometric concepts. When teachers or parents give a direction or statement such as “Joey is standing in front of his brother,” they are giving a precise description of where Joey is in relationship to his brother.

When children play a game by following directions such as put the plastic egg behind their back, they demonstrate their knowledge or emerging knowledge of behind. With this knowledge a teacher will determine the next steps in their lesson planning for scaffolding children’s geometric concepts.

Visualizing Space

Children benefit from experiences that can help them visualize spatial relationships. Doing puzzles helps children develop this skill. Eventually children can begin to see mentally where pieces of the puzzle go without doing a trial and error approach.

Teachers also use geometric terms such as turn, flip, and slide as they assist or observe children working on puzzles.  This spatial visualization helps children distinguish if a library book will fit in their bookbag/backpack.

As an educator or parent, research has shown that our attitude toward math will influence young children’s attitudes toward math. Even if we do not like Geometry, we do not want to state that to children. We need to become an actor and act as though we do. If we can’t answer a child’s question, let them know you will find out the answer or encourage the child to assist you in finding the answer. Geometry is all around our young children, and it is something that will be used throughout their lives.


Big Ideas of Early Mathematics: What Teachers of Young Children Need to Know by The Early Math Collaborative-Erikson Institute

Focus in Pre-K: Teaching with Curriculum Focal Points from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

 Principles and Standards for School Mathematics from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Teaching Mathematics in Early Childhood by Sally Moomaw

The Creative Curriculum® for Preschool – Teaching Strategies

Sherial McKinney, M.S. Ed., is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I and III located at Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL. She has taught in a public school district and worked in the field of early childhood education for over 40 years. She is very interested in mathematics education for young children.