Jenna Kopec is a sophomore communication major. She is currently the features editor for The Current.
We all have a “mom” friend, and you know exactly what I mean: that one friend who asks you if you did your assignments, reminds you to be safe at parties and loves having in-depth discussions about life lessons and feelings. Sometimes that friend even has a premature affinity for children and knows way too much about taking care of people other than themselves. I’ve been the “mom” friend since I was old enough to have friends. Part of me believes it’s because I’ve been taking care of siblings, cousins and whatever kids were around since I was a child.
Because of this, I was told from a very early age that I’d make a great parent. I was also told that I’d make a fabulous teacher. I agreed; I spent most of high school preparing for a career in education. I was so invested in exploratory teaching programs that I graduated with a certification and job offer that allowed me to become a preschool teacher.
Of course, through the programs offered at my high school, I interned, volunteered and worked in plenty of classrooms, but never as a lead teacher. That changed the summer before I started college, where I was assigned a lead position in a room full of one-year-olds — “wobblers,” as I like to call them. I was terrified to enter that classroom by myself, but my directors and coworkers were adamant about the position.
I was mature for my age and, of course, I was qualified to work with the kids, but that didn’t make it any easier. That summer was a period full of frustration, fears and tears from both the teacher and students. I know, it sounds crazy that a group of six one-year-olds were powerful enough to bring me to a breaking point. After all, I had twelve years more experience than they had combined.
But at one-year-old, my kids — because, let’s be honest, after eight or more hours a day those babies were more than just “students” — were solely responsible for wreaking havoc. I had a biter, screamer, hitter, thrower, runner and an “I eat anything that isn’t food”-er all in one class. I went to work every day wishing I could encase them in bubble wrap. I used to tell them “please just stop getting hurt” when I walked them out to the playground. None of these children like to nap.
Surprisingly, the most stressful part of the experience was dealing with the parents. The people I was closest with knew I was capable of taking care of these kids, but these parents weren’t going to trust some 18-year-old with their precious babies right off the bat. One parent even accused me of not feeding her child, which is a serious and hurtful accusation to make against your child’s caretaker. Another parent gave me a lesson on how to diaper a child, as if that wasn’t something I already knew.
During stressful times, I even found myself questioning whether or not I could handle this position. If these parents didn’t think I could handle working with their kids, there had to be a reason, right? No.
Thankfully, I was able to prove myself capable due to a lot of hard work and support from the preschool directors. By the end of the summer, I was able to train a new lead teacher on the chaotic, but consistent, schedule I had my kids on. I was able to stop the kids from beating each other up all the time, and the little boy who liked to eat almost everything but food was beginning to limit his diet to edible items. I left that classroom impressed with myself and positive that I never wanted to go through the experience again.
I grew a lot in that position, and though I wanted to quit at times, I finished what I had started. Even though I loved the “wobblers,” I learned that working with children that young wasn’t right for me — no matter what my friends and family might have said. That summer, I learned that no one has enough knowledge to determine what I should be doing. Yes, I have the tendency to be the “mom” friend. Yes, I love children and babies. I probably will make a good parent. But I never want to work in a preschool again. Frankly, I’m not sure I even want to work in a school again.
So, as you embark on this new semester, you may think you have it all figured out. You might have friends and family that have an image of what your life is supposed to be. Sometimes you agree completely with them, but sometimes that image changes. Don’t be afraid to jump into a new opportunity, but don’t be discouraged if that opportunity shows you where not to go, rather than where to go next.
PHOTO CREDIT: J. KOPEC