As you examine school options for your elementary school aged children, you might be wondering what type of qualifications they should have. Our experience over the fifty-plus years of operating an elementary school has taught us to focus on a couple of key areas. There are other factors, but we consider the ones listed below to be critical.
1. A B.A. in Early Education or a related field
While teachers in middle or high school could get away with subject knowledge, we believe it is very important for Lower School teachers to at least have a BA in Early Education or a closely related field. Child development is a critical part of lower school learning and teachers need to be equipped to understand the stages and typical timing and milestones. There are also important strategies that take those stages into account.
2. Caring heart for this age of children
Knowing what to do and what to teach is important, but it is just as important that teacher really love children in the age group they are teaching - and love them in groups! Every day will present challenges and you want a teacher that responds from a caring heart. Two teachers might use the same classroom management techniques, but different genuine levels of care and concern will create radically different classroom environments. There is a big difference between controlling and managing kids and nurturing them.
3. Value system that matches yours
Values and worldview are incredibly important factors in your children's teachers. Because of the large amount of time students spend with teachers, they learn about much more than academics. And though many teachers are instructed to be value-neutral in the classroom, what you don't say can be as important as what you do say. You want to make sure that your teachers will be reinforcing everything you are teaching your child at home, instead of contradicting it. You don't want to have to spend your time undoing what your child has "learned" in the classroom.
4. Makes learning fun
The early years of school set the tone for your child's educational career and will influence them for many years. If their school experience is boring, oppressive, a struggle, or contains other negative elements, they will come to expect the same from school in the future. That doesn't mean that school should just be playtime - early learning can and truly should be a joyful experience of discovery. Great teachers understand the importance of a child's perspective on learning and create a classroom experience that draws students in.
5. Thoughts from a teacher
We thought it would also be helpful to include the recommendation from our own first grade teacher, Cheryl Braswell:
"A lower school teacher must be loving but firm, creative but grounded, and determined. The love must be for teaching and students, because at times, both will be trying! They must be firm in every decision, action, and retraction, and creative enough to make a silk purse out of a sows ear because there will be times of plenty but also times of want. They must love teaching because different curriculum will come and go, but there are always going to be students that need reaching and teaching, and they may or may not be lovable. A teacher must know his or her calling for certain, then be willing to hold to it in all seasons. Students of all shapes, sizes, and learning styles will come into her classroom and they all deserve to feel special and loved.”
We know that this is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will giving you some additional perspectives as you consider the educational options for your children. We've got a couple other resources below that might be helpful.