Lessons Learned from Interning at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning

This semester I have had the privilege to assist in a preschool classroom at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning, the Ohio State lab school for children ages six-weeks through six years. For the last four months, I have spent 20 hours a week working alongside children and staff in room 124. You can read more about my daily experiences here and here. These are the top takeaways from my internship:

  1. Children’s development is complex. Children are very rarely totally “ahead,” “on track,” or “behind” in most or all developmental domains as I had previously thought. I guess I believed that since all parts of the child grow in the same environment then that environment nurtures all parts of the child equally well. However, this is not the case. A child can have extraordinary language skills and poor social skills. They can have strong print awareness, but poor phonological awareness. A child’s strengths and weaknesses are complex.
  2. No one likes to be told what to do, so avoid telling people what to do. I could go on and on about my growth and understanding in this regard, but I’ll cut to the chase: speak to children the way you want to be spoken to.
  3. The best teaching has nothing to do with lessons or planning. Teaching happens in every interaction a teacher shares with his or her students. It’s the conversations shared at the snack table, lining up for outdoor play, or while feuding in the building space where most of the teaching happens. Lessons make up a small fraction of the day; it’s the interactions that really count. 
  4. You have to be stubborn. There are times when it would be easier to just let things go, but seizing every opportunity to model and correct behavior is key to building independence and creating a happy, calm classroom for all.
  5. Guidance and discipline involve a tricky balance. You have to teach students the skills to succeed while providing consequences that deter destructive behavior.
  6. If it doesn’t matter, don’t control it. Climb up the slide! Spend 10 minutes washing your hands! Put the baby dolls in the water table! There is no use in getting into power struggles over things that don’t really matter, and normally if you let go, pretty impressive learning happens. Limits should never be arbitrary.
  7. The better the teacher you are the less stressful the job is. Before this experience, I was worried that teaching would be too stressful for me, but after seeing my master teacher lead I understand that a strong teacher can create calm within the class once he or she has the skills to do so.
  8. Affluence affects development and learning in different ways than I previously thought. Mo’ money, mo’ problems
  9. Working with the same children over an extended period is more rewarding and easier than subbing. Knowing students is half the joy of working with them.
  10. Teaching is not isolating work. Possibly a problem specific to me, I was wary of being a career teacher because I thought it would be lonely and emotionally laborious work. I thought working with people at such a drastically different stage in life as myself would be isolating. I thought I would have to pretend to feel positive emotions when I didn’t. I was wrong. Teaching preschool is the most human job I have ever had the privilege of working. My students show up as their whole selves and so do I. That’s what it takes to build connections. I know them, and they know me more intimately than any coworkers at an office job.

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What We Can Learn from a Picture of a Dinosaur

During table choices students have the option to work with homemade dinosaur puzzles. Four sets have been made of the puzzles in the image above. Each is of a different species of dinosaur.

A prekindergarten student comes to sit down at the table where I am working with two other children. He grows quickly frustrated and requests for help. He is an older student and needs only verbal prompting and encouragement to complete the task. Once truly started he assembles the puzzle quickly. I offer him the puzzle that is in my spot. He declines and reaches for the simpler two piece puzzles in the middle of the table. Photos of six dinosaurs have been printed, laminated, and cut in half.

“I’m going to make silly ones!” he exclaims. (Objective 11e)

“Oh, you’re going to mix them up. That will be funny.” I say.

He places the tail end of one with the front end of another. I do the same. I describe that mine has a Triceratops tail and T-rex face. He remarks that his has a T-rex tail but is unsure of what the front half is. I suggest that we could look in the dinosaur book to find out. He grabs the dinosaur encyclopedia from the library and turns page by page looking for a match. He finds one. (Objective 13, 17)

“There! What’s that say?” he points to the heading text at the top left of the page. (Objective 17b)

“Stegosaurus!” I say.

He repeats me.

In the background of the page is another dinosaur that I recognize from the figurines in the block area. I tell him that I’ll be right back. I grab the toy and return back to the table. “It matches,” I say, placing it next to the page.

He looks from the book to the dinosaur to me and back again. He smiles.

“Maybe we can find the name of this dinosaur in the book too.” I remark.

He picks up the dinosaur and turns it on it’s belly. “What’s that say?” he shows it to me. (Objective 12a)

In teeny tiny letters below MADE IN CHINA reads PARASAUROLOPHUS.

“Parasaur-olo-phus!” In one of few times since my elementary years, decoding does not come easily to me. “You remembered that the names were on their backs! I didn’t know that.”

He gleams with pride.

We flip through the book again looking for the rest of the unknown dinosaurs, but he gets distracted after turning to the front.

“What’s this?” he asks.

“It’s the table of contents.” I point to the words at the top of the page. “It tells what is on each page of the book.”

He looks over the spread in wonder. (Objective 17a)

“What’s that say?” he points to “Herrerasaurus.”

I read the name then point to the 33 beside it. “There’s a photo and more information on page 33. This is page 4.” I point to the number in the corner of the page.

He turns carefully, reading each page number aloud as he goes until he gets to page 33. He stops and looks to the top of the page. He recognizes the word from the table of contents. He points and recites then looks up at me with excitement on his face. He flips back to the front of the book to try again. (Objective 20a, 20c, 18b, 11d)

After using the table of contents a few more times, he returns his attention back to the puzzles in front of him. He matches a few up, but the task is well within his zone of achieved development. He begins to grow bored. (objective 11a)

“I have an idea!” I exclaim. I flip over the 12 dinosaur halves. “We can play a matching game.”

He looks on confused.

I model flipping over two cards one at a time. On the second try I find a match. “That’s how you play.”

He grins, now fully on board. (Objective 11e)

We flip the cards all over again and he begins the game. With each turn of the card he says the dinosaur name that he has just learned. I follow suit. He waits his turn patiently, accepts defeat with grace, and wins without gloating. We play until it is time to transition to morning snack. (Objective 9a, 1a, 1b, 11a)

Learning Objectives (Aligned with Teaching Strategies GOLD)
  • 1. Regulates own emotions and behaviors
  • 2a. Forms relationships with adults
  • 7a. Uses fingers and hands
  • 8. Listens to and understands increasingly complex language
  • 9. Uses language to express thoughts and needs
  • 10. Uses appropriate conversational and other communication skills
  • 11. Demonstrates positive approaches to learning
  • 12. Remembers and connects experiences
  • 13. Uses classification skills
  • 17. Demonstrates knowledge of print and its uses
  • 18. Comprehends and responds to books and other texts
  • 20. Uses number concepts and operations
  • 25. Demonstrates knowledge of the characteristics of living things

Complete Teaching Strategies GOLD Objectives

A Day at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning

Schoenbaum Family Center at Weinland Park
Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons

This semester I have the pleasure to intern at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning at the Schoenbaum Family Center. The school offers early childhood education and care for children ages six weeks to five years in an intentionally diverse learning community. It is a part of the university’s College of Education and Human Ecology, serving as a place for research and undergraduate teacher training. I work as an assistant teacher in a preschool class under the guidance of a master teacher. Days at the school vary, but they all march to the same beat. Below I have shared my experiences on a Thursday in mid-February.

The day begins at 8:30. I welcome students as they arrive. After putting away their belongings and washing their hands I offer them breakfast. At the table we discuss how we spent our home days, the snow, and what’s new in the sensory table. After cleaning up their breakfast dishes students transition to indoor play.

During indoor play children move freely between the interest areas, becoming engrossed in their work. I spend the time observing children, intervening to mediate peer conflict when needed, conversing, and engaging in play. On this particular day I type on old keyboards in writing, facilitate ramp construction on the carpet, pretend to be a domino version of myself at the dollhouse, and mediate much conflict. Due to the extreme cold the children have not been able to spend nearly as much time playing outside than normal. Tensions are running high and feelings are easily hurt. Understanding the natural consequences of yelling or hitting our playmates is a frequent conversation.

At around 10 o’clock we begin to get ready for circle time. Children are given a warning that they have 5 more playing minutes then told to clean up and use the restroom. Through consistent schedules and a well designed environment this is a task they can complete independently for the most part.

I spend circle time working one-on-one with a student that needs extra support. Some days we join the rest of the class on the carpet for stories and finger rhymes, but on most I follow his lead in play. He is highly interested in small world dramatic play and letter recognition and formation. During circle time I try to guide his interest to the latter as it is quieter and less disruptive for those participating in the morning meeting. On this morning we spend circle time working at the writing desk. (You can read more about it here.)

At the end of circle time children choose where they will work. Special materials are available at the tables around the room including the sensory and light tables. Materials are chosen based on the children’s interest. Today there is snow painting at the art table, translucent gems and small cups at the light table, water and pouring/filling tools at the sensory table, and homemade dinosaur puzzles at the circle table. (You can read more about my experience using dinosaur puzzles for child led individual instruction here.)

Following table choices we transition to snack time and typically then to outdoor play. Because of the weather we are unable to play outside. Instead we incorporate gross motor movement by riding bikes, running, and playing movement games such as Simon Says and Follow the Leader. A new game we have been working on is the opposite game. Students are given a task, either to touch their head or their stomachs, but they have previously been instructed to do the opposite of what they are told. A seemingly simple task for adults, for young children it requires great concentration and can be frustrating at times. It is an excellent tool to build persistence and impulse control.

We then transition to lunch where we eat family style – although, modified to take COVID-19 precautions. I serve, converse, encourage adventurous eating, and model and remind students of appropriate mealtime behavior. After lunch we walk back to the classroom for independent reading and rest time.

During rest time I support students who need teacher assistance falling asleep. After all who take naps have fallen asleep, I work one-on-one with an older student on their pencil grasp or assist with administrative tasks.

On this particular afternoon I assemble a sign-in poster and laminate it in the teacher work room. Each student has a space to print their name, scaffolded to their current skill level, at arrival. Incorporating the task into the daily routine encourages fine motor strength and coordination, letter formation, and use of writing to convey meaning.

After that I make popsicle sticks for a process based art project and study of cause and effect to be used next week. As I’m working student’s begin to wake up from their nap. As they transition from rest to snack time they join me at the table. I offer them opportunities to help by counting the bundles of sticks needed and securing the rubber bands on the sides of the bundles. Once we have enough built we clean up and I serve snack.

After snack students transition to indoor play. The afternoon work cycle is very similar to the morning. The children depart individually as their caregivers arrive to pick them up. At the end of the day my master teacher and I sanitize the materials and make sure the room is ready for children to arrive the following morning.

This is the weekly Curriculum Guide that includes the day described above. 

Substitute Teaching at St. Joseph Montessori School

For the past year I have worked as an “on call” substitute teacher at St. Joseph Montessori School (SJMS). SJMS is a private Catholic school that serves children in preschool through 8th grade using the approach to education that was developed by the Italian physician, Maria Montessori. As a substitute, I accept teaching assignments across all subject areas, working with children of varied academic/age levels and diverse cultural backgrounds.

Working at SJMS has allowed me to learn from veteran teachers. They use a co-teaching model, so other than specials, when I am working I am with another permanent teacher. Under their guidance, I have enhanced my classroom management skills and built my confidence in leading a classroom.

Gaining an understanding of the Montessori philosophy has challenged my ideas of how I view myself as an instructor. It has taught me to value the child’s natural capabilities as a learner and to look inward when trying to improve my teaching practice. My experience here has motivated me to pursue training and employment outside of the traditional American educational approach. 

Photo courtesy of montessoricentenary.org

Writing Samples

Academic Work

Developing Nonprofit Leadership Skills through Summer Fellowship at The Columbus Foundation (Second-year Transformational Experience Program Project Proposal) (March 2021)

Should Nonprofits be Required to Pay a Living Wage? (November 2020)

Addressing the Lack of Quality Child Care for Infants and Toddlers in Ohio (December 2018)

Professional Work

CELC 2017 Annual Report (Card) (November 2018)

CELC SmallTalk July 2018 (July 2018)