I am placed in a 4K classroom at a charter school in inner city Philadelphia. 4K means the children are around four years old, which implies that they are pre- kindergarteners. At this point I have visited my site four times and each time we have a very similar afternoon schedule.
I immediately appreciated the acknowledgement of my presence every visit, by Mr. White and his students. My first visit he introduced me to the class and told the children, “Ms. Deborah is studying to be a teacher like Mr. White, and when Ms. Deborah comes to visit on Wednesdays you must listen to Ms. Deborah, exactly how you would to Mr. White and Ms. S”. He then had me introduced myself to the class, which was kind of awkward because I had never introduced myself to twenty-six four-year olds before. I have the ability to interact with the children, allow them permission to do things, and discipline them as well. Although, I prefer minor discipline, such as, asking them to stop undesirable behaviors, in which I just like to remind them of what they should be doing instead of punishing the undesirable ones. When I get there they are just waking from their naps and go straight into independent reading sitting in their table groups. After independent reading the kids go downstairs to gym, then back upstairs to a large group story, which leads to an arts and crafts activity, ending with packing up and going home. Mr. White usually asks me to read the class, the last story of the day before we pack up to go home which I really enjoy as well.
I spoke in class briefly about the use of the word “expectations” that my host teacher, Mr. White used it very frequently when speaking to the children. When I first met my host teacher and asked him of his end-of-the-year expectations for the children were he stated that they should be familiar with sight words, write and recognize their names, and other basic understanding of story plots. I thought this was doable and not unusual so it did not affect me at the time. Since this conversation and more visits to the site I have noticed more and more the use of the word “expectation” in the classroom. As mentioned, the students are 4-5 years old. For example, Mr. White says. “The expectation is that you’re silently reading right now”, “The expectation is that you’re listening”, “The expectation is that your hands are by your side”. The list goes on. It was bothersome to me because at young ages these children are learning that they should be measuring up to expectations and if they’re not, then they are not performing adequately. Expectations play a significant role in education and even in college, students like to be sure of expectations of an assignment prior to beginning it. I don’t know if I am in actually against the word but I think the use of it with such young children is what makes it weird to me. I question if a four year old is really able to grasp proper understanding of the word.
Another thing I found interesting is during pack up one day I began assisting a child with putting on his coat and the assistant teacher, Ms. S, stopped me and told me that Mr. White does not like when she assists the students in packing or dressing because he likes for them to do it themselves. Although this does not sound unreasonable because building independence is a primary focus for preschoolers, one of my very first tasks when arriving to the classroom is aiding Mr. White in tying the shoe laces of all the children in preparation for gym class. I’m not sure if it is a developmental milestone and tying laces is deemed to be more of a challenge then dressing oneself but why was it acceptable to tie the laces of all the children but not acceptable to assist in putting on a coat when a child asked?
Pre-kindergarten is already a grade where there is a lot of teacher supervision in everything and because of their young ages agency is very limited to simple choices. For example, “Choose one of the books from the lending library (at your table) to take home with you”. The students are given agency to choose their own books but only from a limited selection of choices, they are not able to get up and choose a book from the lending library at another table. I am interested in observing more visits after having read Gutstein’s article about student agency.