There is something inherently emasculating about revealing oneself as a preschool teacher in conversation with strangers. It’s always an interesting social experiment, however, and I usually take one of three routes: simply state that I teach pre-K, go vague and say that I work with younger elementary students, or drop the TFA bomb and let that run its course instead. (“Oh, I know someone doing that!” “Oh my gosh that’s awesome, I could never do that!” “I bet your kids are so cute!”) Regardless of my choice, the subsequent dialogue follows a similar arc in which I reveal humorous classroom hijinks, show off how much glue is stuck to my fingers, and make an offhand comment about really, truly loving it. And I always hate that last part, because I never understand why I feel this urge to defend the fact that while I wasn’t initially interested in teaching Early Childhood Education, I can honestly say I’m glad I’m here.
And that’s not to say there aren’t pitfalls, moments of downright confusion, or mornings where I have to drag myself into the room for yet another round of “The Bubblegum Song.” But, as February begins and I settle into the familiar routine, small flickers of pure joy push me to continue growing if not for the sake of myself, for my students.
“Mr. Nick, do you have a grandpa?” A relatively familiar question from a preschool student; their four-year-old minds are beginning to understand that their perspective of the world does not always match up with those of the individuals around them. I have had, on more than one occasion, confused stares and blank faces when students discover that I live with neither my mommy nor my daddy and, in fact, drive my own car.
“I do. He lives far away. I have to take a plane to see him,” I respond, excited at this chance to scaffold a conversation and see what family member vocabulary my precocious and eldest boy remembers.
“I have a grandpa. And an abuelita. And a brother and my mommy,” he chatters, quickly spurting off a list of relatives. Before I can ask follow-up questions, he looks at me and says, “But I don’t have no daddy.”
I hang in limbo. While I have a general understanding of my students’ home lives, many have a carousel of adults picking them up from school each day and an eagerness to go home with a favorite aunt or relished neighbor that has never revealed an awareness of any differences between their own potentially myriad caregiver(s) and a peer’s.
“But I have Mr. Nick. And when I grow up, I’m going to be Mr. Omar!” he runs quickly to the bathroom door and holds it open, pretending to supervise the students washing their hands inside for breakfast. “Don’t forget soap!” he happily chirps to them, then stands with his back pressed against the door and extends himself as high as possible, willing himself to grow the extra inches that might relay his new position.
I can’t even attempt to hide the broad smile on my face. “So you’re going to be a teacher?” I ask. “I’m Mr. Omar,” he repeats again. “Like you!”
While I won’t attempt to take credit for the fact that Omar is already one of my most consistently ecstatic students, I do feel a sense of pride in knowing that some small part of him believes that with enough vegetables at lunch, he can grow into someone like me. And while we’re talking about the high school class of 2026 here, and plenty can change, it is encouraging to know that my classroom has the type of atmosphere where students regard what I’m doing as something that merits duplication. However, I also acknowledge the fact that to a young boy supported by a single mother in a school where I am the only male teacher, I may be one of his few consistent glimpses of what it means to be an adult male.
And it’s a responsibility I refuse to take lightly.
So I think I’m done “admitting” to being a preschool teacher. From here on out, I will unabashedly own the fact that I work with 22 amazing students tirelessly each day in the hopes of preparing them for the rest of their lives. I tie their shoes, I remind them to blow their noses, and I also see limitless potential in each and every one of them. Sure, I’m not exactly certain if anyone is reading this — but if you’re me, one year ago, and you’re trying to figure out what button you accidentally clicked that put you in preschool… don’t worry. You have an incredibly pivotal position that entails working with students (and their families) in their first encounter ever with education (which is an entirely other experience worth posting about.) And if you’re a guy considering applying and you haven’t made up your mind about what you want to teach? Take a moment, consider the options, and if you dare… man up.