When I first wrote that question as a way to start my thinking about classroom management, I thought, “Wow, what a loaded question!” I mean, we all love children; if we didn’t we wouldn’t be working in the field of early childhood education. But it is no secret that this is a very challenging field: a 2003 study found that the turnover rate among early childhood educators is estimated to be between 15-30% every year. About a year ago I wrote a post in which I pondered the idea that teaching in early childhood is considered a dead-end job. Obviously, I have never considered it a dead-end job, but those who aren’t familiar with (or aren’t curious about) the amazing amount of knowledge out there that can make the job easier have a harder time in the classroom than those who seek out knowledge and productive ways of doing things in the classroom.
One of the most frustrating aspects of working with children is dealing with problem behaviors. Many different discipline and classroom management systems label these behaviors different ways, from “mistaken” to “challenging,” but the fact is that early childhood educators are expected to handle these behaviors on a daily basis while still trying to maintain a nurturing atmosphere. Sometimes these roles can feel conflicting if problem behaviors get out of control; teachers feel that the role of disciplinarian, coupled with the frustration that comes with it, overtakes and consumes their role as nurturer. Having to be a constant disciplinarian is one of the factors leading many teachers to burnout.
So what if I pose the question differently: what if I ask you how you view children in the worst situations, those situations in which you are being the disciplinarian rather than the nurturer? How often does it happen throughout your day? Is there one children that you find yourself disciplining more than others? How do you feel during those situations?
I remember when I first began studying about classroom management and discipline techniques. I was a fairly new teacher in a three-year-old classroom with fifteen children. I did not have a co-teacher or an assistant teacher; I was alone. There was one girl – we’ll call her Jayla (names are changed to protect the innocent) – who put me in the disciplinarian chair every single day, all day long. Jayla’s behaviors made me feel:
- out of control
Needless to say, when I felt these emotions, it became difficult to have a productive learning environment. While I tried to be as positive as possible with other children in the class, my negative emotions took a toll on my energy level and my positive interactions with the rest of the class. After all, a teacher only has so many hours in a day with children. The more they find themselves in negative situations, the less time they have to be in positive situations.
In my next post, we will explore the choices that teachers have in high-stress discipline situations in the classroom.