Kindle Edition- Free. From 11/2-11/3.
Kindle Edition- Free. From 11/2-11/3.
What would a kindergartner write about me? Probably something like: Mr. Halpern is funny. He is handsome. He likes to laugh. I love Mr. Halpern. How can I top that? Who doesn't want to be funny, handsome, laugh all the time, and be loved by their students? From the first time a child reached up to take my hand to learning the true value of zipping a coat, being a 'rooster in a world of hens' my unique perspective on teaching and children will (hopefully) warm your heart, make you laugh, and might even help you remember what it felt like to be in kindergarten.
“YOU DON’T SEE A LOT OF MEN working with young kids. Really most men don’t have the patience. You need lots of patience for the little ones.”
On the school bus carrying our tired class back to school after our long day away, the father of a little boy – not in my class but part of the other kindergarten crew in my school – tried his best to under- stand why a grown man would want to spend his day with five-year- olds.
I’m used to the questions. Usually, when each school year begins, it’s looks more than actual words I get from parents. Each spring, as the flowers begin to bloom like my own sprouts getting ready for first grade, a new crop comes in for kindergarten screening. We tell them we’re going to play some games, but really we’re testing them, so we can try our best to make two balanced classrooms. As I walk the (usually) excited children back to our school’s small library to be re- united with their parents, I always receive a few odd glances from parents.
There are no words, just eyes that seem to say, “Who is this man holding my child’s hand?” In a moment they will find out. The guid- ance counselor will introduce me; if she isn’t available to do so, I in- troduce myself.
“Hello, my name is Matt Halpern. I’m one of the kindergarten teachers here.”
Yes, I’m a man. Yes, I teach kindergarten. I have for about five years now. I didn’t always; I used to teach second grade, and before that I was a computer programmer. The boredom of sitting in a cu- bicle staring at a screen all day wasn’t a good fit for my ADD, and while I thoroughly enjoyed teaching second grade, when the princi- pal at my old school asked me to move to kindergarten, it wasn’t a difficult decision for me to take the leap.
I understand – teaching the little ones isn’t usually considered man’s work, but the fact of the matter is not only do the kids appear to enjoy me, but with each passing year my skills as a teacher improve. As for patience, yes, it’s something you need buckets of, but here’s the thing about patience nobody tells you: it’s not something you’re just born with, like a piano virtuoso. You have to practice and develop the skill. Daily I am in awe of the patience both required of me and that I ex- hibit. If it were an Olympic sport, I’d medal for sure.
On more than one occasion, adults visiting my room for some rea- son (folks come and go in a kindergarten classroom more than you’d expect; sometimes I joke we are busier than Grand Central Station) have commented on my patience. It comes up during almost every supervisory evaluation I’ve had. One time my principal actually not- ed the number of times I noticed positive behavior among my stu- dents (noticing is much more politically correct than liking these days – there’s no judgment involved in noticing) and was simply over- whelmed.
“How do you do it all day long? Aren’t you exhausted?” she wondered.
“Well, I don’t even think about it anymore really,” I replied. “It’s kind of like breathing. And yes, I am exhausted.”
Here’s my secret. (No, this isn’t a John Grisham thriller. I’m not going to make you wait until the bitter end to find out what’s inside Pandora’s box.) I’m having fun too. Seriously, it’s that simple. Sure, it’s hard work. Keeping track of twenty-plus kindergartners is like juggling twice as many balls or, as kindergarten teachers joke among ourselves, herding cats. But the truth of the matter is it’s incredibly joyful.
Every morning I’m greeted with smiles, drawings, notes, high- fives, and hugs. Not every child comes bouncing down the hallway, waving and shouting my name, but most do, and I try to keep my focus on them. Instead of sitting behind a desk all day or (gasp!) dreading meetings that make me feel like gouging my ears out, I’m spending my day singing, dancing, reading, and playing with chil- dren. Folks joke about the Peter Pan complex, but it’s my job to be young at heart.
When I began my kindergarten journey, I started posting some of the cute gems children would say or do on Facebook. After a few weeks, Maggie, a dear friend of mine who happens to be a writer, reached out to me.
“Why don’t you start blogging about your experiences?” she asked. “I’m not a writer,” was my simple reply.
“Yes, you are,” she assured me, and my writing journey began.
Like a naturalist in the jungle, I had to document this stuff – other- wise nobody would believe me.
With one short post, I began sharing the joy I was receiving each day. I had no idea if anyone would want to read my ramblings, but slowly, like a tree budding in the spring, my audience began to build. Eventually I started a Facebook page for my blog, and a growing community of teachers sprang up, sharing their own stories and laughter with each other and me.
Time and time again, people would ask me, “How do you stay so positive? Is it all really sunshine and rainbows?” The short answer is no. The longer answer is sure, there are obstacles, challenges, even horrible days, but I choose to focus on the smiles, hugs, and laughter. The number of times I have had heartache, death, or turmoil in my personal life, and a smiling child put it all on the back burner, is enough proof this is the job for me. Kindergarten isn’t for the faint of heart or the queasy (seriously, bodily fluids abound), but the re- wards surpass anything else you can imagine.
I’m a man. I’m a kindergarten teacher. This is my journey.
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Matt Halpern currently teaches kindergarten in New England. He loves school so much he decided to become a teacher and help kids love it as much as he does. Getting to sing, dance, and get hugs all day long makes him one of the few who actually wake up excited about going to work.