When I Became a ‘Real’ Teacher

 ‘TheHundred Little Things’

The hundred little things- that’s what it’s all about, in teaching and in life.  It took me many years as a teacher to figure this out.  Thank goodness I had a ‘lightbulb moment’.

As a teacher, I have a way with children; sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper, young children seem to naturally gravitate to me. I can ‘read’ a young child; watching their eyes, listening to their words; the subtleties that children project are very honest.  When I tell a story or read a book at school, children are often captivated, although spellbound is probably more accurate.  “Jennie, tell the bat story!”  You can see the anticipation in eager little eyes and transfixed bodies.  Preschoolers move and wiggle, but not when I tell or read a story.  Lunchtime at school is full of fifteen excited children, and that is when the stories flow.  Children know that if a story starts with, “Once Upon a Time”, it is pretend.  The Little Red Hen and Goldilocks and the Three Bears are ever popular.

On the other hand, if a story starts with, “It Happened Like This”, they know the story is real, and something that happened with Jennie, their teacher.  Oh boy!  Those stories are beloved.  Children beg to hear them, because they portray their teacher when she was a child, in the same situations that they can understand; being scared over a bat in her room, hating vegetables, going Trick-or-Treating at the scary next door neighbor’s house, and a birthday cake with the wrong frosting.

Believe me, it wasn’t always this way.

Early on in my preschool teaching, I interacted with children with the best of intentions, yet often struggled to feel that I had made a connection, much less a difference.  Even though I was always a caring and kind teacher, there was a self imposed ‘you and me wall’.  I was the teacher, and you were the student.  Teaching meant teaching information, in a caring environment.  Yes, I was a good teacher, but I didn’t fully understand how important love was until that day, twenty-five years ago.

It was nap time at school, late in the fall, the time of year when children and teachers were comfortable with each other.  There I was, lying on my back, looking across the classroom.  All the children were asleep, except Andrew, a child who was often distant and sometimes challenging.  He was the boy I had not really connected with.  He saw me, and I saw him.  We both smiled, simultaneously, knowing everybody else was asleep.  At that moment, there was nobody else on the whole earth.  It was just Andrew and Jennie.  He knew it and I knew it.  This was deep and enlightening.

Lightbulb moment!

In education, I learned that if children come first, then teaching becomes deeper, better, more focused, and more energized.  The children learn because I have put them first.  I had it backwards, carefully planning a curriculum and activities, and then fitting the children into those plans.  Not that it was bad or didn’t work; it just was…well, lacking passion.  Oh, children know how a teacher really feels.  So, thanks to Andrew, I started to change.

First, lunchtime became a forum to learn about the children and really listen to them.  I learned so many little things, like the names of pets and grandparents, what a big brother does, the color of a bike.  These were little things, yet they became the building blocks.  We often debated deep subjects, such as if a girl can marry a girl, or if people go to heaven when they die.  Everyone’s opinion was valued.  The day that Kelly told us her dog, Bruno, had died; the class did not know what to say.  I told her that my dog had died years ago, and I was very sad.  Then, a child asked Kelly if she was sad.  The following thirty minutes was spent with heartfelt children telling each other about grandparents and pets who had died, and all the feelings and questions that naturally follow.  At that moment, lunch was far less important than what was happening, and could wait.

It was each ‘moment’, over and over again, often hundreds of them, which made the difference.  I started to call this phenomenon “The Hundred Little Things”.  Now, my teaching and curriculum had become child centered.  From this point forward, I clearly put the horse before the cart.  Smart thing!  That same year my husband asked me, out of the blue, why our children wanted to hear ‘I love you’ all the time.  “It’s the hundred little things”, I told him.  “It takes at least a hundred times for each little ‘I love you’ to really become meaningful”.

Once teaching became child centered, the most remarkable events began to happen.

We went to the circus.  Of course we decided to have our own circus performance at school for our families, and I let the children decide what they wanted to do.  Again, a child-centered event eclipsed anything I could have planned.  Over the next few years, music, math games, and science exploration exploded.  Every child’s interest was a spark, and became a tool for learning.  I had learned so much and transferred the children’s love into a great preschool experience.  Little did I know that the best was yet to come.

I love museums.  In Philadelphia I visited the National Liberty Museum and was thunderstruck by their Peace Portal.  Instantly I knew this magnificent structure was something my classroom could recreate.  Now the tables were turned, yet again.  I brought the idea back to school, and the children loved it!  They spent a large part of the school year designing a Peace Portal.  Then, they wrote a Peace Poetry Book, and designed and participated in making a Peace Quilt, which is now a permanent display in the Museum.  The depth of this project was a combination of a deep understanding and enthusiasm on all parts.  As such, the process and the product were wonderful.  The following year, the children really wanted to sing “God Bless America”.  Watching them sing amongst themselves, over and over, was a true ‘hundred little things’.  Again, we worked together to bring the song to soldiers, to making a book, and to designing a quilt that hangs at the Fisher House in Boston.  Our most recent quilt hangs at the Boston State House.  Most importantly for the children, the Governor personally accepting the quilt.

When I pay attention to what sparks children and ‘run with it’, there is always a powerful result, something meaningful, something children sink their teeth into, something they remember.  Last year they loved the robots that Boston Dynamics built, so children wrote a letter and told them so.  The engineers wanted to Zoom with the children and tell them about the robots.  Today at school, it has started again.  Stay tuned for the letter and story.

Being a preschool teacher for many years has been a wonderful roller coaster of every emotion and of learning.  When I first became a preschool teacher, teaching happened first.  Thanks to Andrew, I know that the love happens first, and then becomes the catalyst to develop deep relationships with children, and therefore a rich curriculum.  The ‘hundred little things’ proves that to be true.

Pay attention to children.  You just need to really see them, and love them.  It can change your life.  It changed mine.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
This entry was posted in behavior, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Love, museums, preschool, School, Teaching young children and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

125 Responses to When I Became a ‘Real’ Teacher

  1. joylennick says:

    What a fascinating article Jennie. And so true. Not all children come from homes with caring or intelligent/well meaning, parents . more’s the pity, and this is where teachers come into the equation. What a difference if the teacher is as far-seeing as you are…I am ancient and was a child evacuee in WW11, so had a very mixed, inadequate education; attending seven schools in all, and left at fifteen to work in an office. I was 66 years old before i sat and passed the A level Literature exam. Although I was well and truly an adult, my tutor was red-hot, very strict and worth his weight in gold. As are you! .I bet all the children who have been in your care, are blooming like prize flowers! Well done! Cheers. x

    • Jennie says:

      Hi Joy. I remember your childhood story. My goodness, seven schools. I often think about children who are or were in a war zone, and I can’t fathom how they overcome such circumstances. You were evacuated, so that’s a blessing. And, you had a great teacher. Hooray! This post could have been longer with my stories- I’m ancient, too. I’m 72 (who ever heard of a 72-year-old preschool teacher) and have been teaching for 38 years. Lucky me! And oh how I love the children.

  2. This is such an inspiring discussion of teaching. As I’m sitting here about how that natural curiosity and love of learning are lost somewhere along the way in the education system, I can’t help but think that grades have something to do with it. Time and time again, I’ve seen what an impediement they can be to genuine learning.

  3. Darlene says:

    How wonderful to read about your journey to become such a fabulous teacher. I am sure, because of your child-centred teaching, the job is much more enjoyable for you as well. I have met teachers who are terribly jaded and unhappy with their job, which affects their ability to connect with the students. Bravo to you for finding the secret ingredient!

  4. As we are all (hopefully) more or less sourrounded by children, your lookback is very teaching and impressive, Jennie! I think we all need such a “lighbulb moment” in view on interacton with children, getting them to responsible adults. Thanks for sharing! xx Michael

  5. quiall says:

    That last line is a truth that could actually changed the world if we would allow it. I’ve always thought that the best way to teach is to get out of their way. Be a guide. And you have done that brilliantly.

  6. srbottch says:

    Wonderful! Jennie, your story reminds me of one of my best sales manager who told wonderful stories at our meetings, each with a purpose of teaching us to be one better salespeople. And much of becoming better and growing into our role was connecting with clients on a more personal level, understanding their wants and needs. Becoming better was a growth process and some of us had made it while others were still wishing, wanting and growing into the role. He compared us to the Velveteen Rabbit who wanted to be real. It was a compliment to be referred to as the VR. Sounds like you got there, too, but we knew that. And your ‘kids’ were so lucky to have a VR as their teacher. I hope this makes sense.

  7. I have often said I wish you had been my teacher. Looking back I don’t believe there was one who connected. Navigating a challenging landscape would have been so much easier with caring guidance. Your students are very fortunate to have you. Thanks for sharing your lightbulb moment.

    • Jennie says:

      That is so nice of you to say, John. Thank you. I find it sad when there is no connection between a teacher and a child, especially these days. We didn’t have warm fuzzy teachers in our day, but children need it today.

      • When my dad died when I was ten, I suppose the teacher didn’t know what to say. No warmth there at all.

      • Jennie says:

        Oh, my goodness. Terrible doesn’t even come close to what your teacher did (which was nothing.) That’s how it was in school for us.

        This past week a second grader in our town died. In my library read aloud group, I have some of her classmates. When I heard the sad news I paced the living room in front of my husband, going through this long dialogue of what I would do as the teacher. I’d move away all the desks, put blankets down on the floor, and open the door for children to talk and ask questions.

        I’m so sorry your teacher never reached out to you, John. It could be for a hundred reasons, but still it isn’t right. Bottom line is teacher warmth means a lot.

      • I think in those days schools tended to keep out of personal problems of the students.

      • Jennie says:

        You are right. And, you can’t saw sawdust.

  8. What a wonderful story…it gave me goosebumps! This is why you’re the best teacher.

  9. A beautiful journey from a light-bulb moment. A couple of things hit me … the classroom wall of the teacher on one side- – students on the other. Being given a curriculum, then fitting students into those plans. I don’t believe I would do very well today because of how classes are driven by content aiming at a state test. As you know, I say this from the perspective of a former HS teacher. Thanks for sharing your light-bulb moment and where it took you!

    • Jennie says:

      I knew you would enjoy it, Frank. Thank you! Even at the preschool level I have to meet state criteria. Fortunately there is no formal testing. In teaching, it’s not what you do, but how you do what you do. You know that well.

  10. Mireya says:

    Yes, I totally agree with connections. Yu reminded me about the time when I feel bored with the material I’m teaching. The students are bored. Oh, but there are times when I have fun, we have fun because we are connecting over the topic. Thank you for this reminder.

  11. amen! amen! and amen!! Every teacher ought to read this! I think we forget that children are people-little men and little women! really.

  12. You are amazing Jennie, and so are the children!

  13. prather742 says:

    I love this and couldn’t agree more!! All your former and current students are beyond blessed that you’ve touched their lives!! And yes, I agree, if only all teachers (and parents) realized that it’s the love and relationship that has to come above all else. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  14. beetleypete says:

    You should be able to patent yourself as the ideal teacher, and the international benchmark for understanding the needs of the young ones. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  15. And this philosophy is why children and families come back to visit time and time again, Jennie❤️

  16. Jim Borden says:

    such a wonderful story, Jennie. your essay should be given to teachers everywhere, especially new ones so that they can learn the importance of making connections early on.

    I need to think about how to apply some of these lessons with my students.

    thanks for the inspiration!

  17. bosssybabe says:

    If only everyone could love their jobs and be passionate about what they do as you are! 💓

  18. Ritu says:

    This us so heartfelt, Jennie. It resonates, deep 💜

  19. Children first! Love is what teaching is all about… Thanks for sharing your journey, Jennie! 😍😘👩‍👧‍👦 xo

  20. Don Ostertag says:

    Hurray for Andrew. I wonder if he realizes how much he accomplished that day. But honestly, Jennie, I think your true love for teaching the little ones would have come out even without Andrew.

  21. petespringerauthor says:

    I’m so in tune with you about the importance of connecting with children. Because you shared it before, I remember how you connected with Andrew. Everything else will take care of itself if the kids know their teacher loves them.

    I just got through texting with one of my former students, who told me that he wants to bring his two daughters up to his old elementary school (he lives hundreds of miles away now) and show them where he used to play wall ball with his teacher, Mr. Springer. I had forgotten that memory until he reminded me, but he hadn’t! Connecting with kids on a personal level is everything! I didn’t always get it right as a teacher (none of us do), but I believe in this philosophy wholeheartedly. I also told lots of stories about myself. Many of them were stories about when I made mistakes but learned from them. That’s what thinking people do! Kids see us as real people then—not some perfect prima donna.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, yes, yes! We are so like-minded, Pete. Like you, I think we learned as we went along in teaching. We had the heart, so the rest just came. When children see us as real people, that is a tremendous thing in teaching. I think opening up ourselves to students is a road block for many teachers. If only they knew…

      How wonderful that your former student remembered playing ball with you and wants to bring his daughters to see where that happened. Wow! I hope you meet them at the school and take lots of pictures. I’m sure you have many, many more memories and stories to tell about connecting with children. That’s why you wrote, “They Call Me Mom.” I hope you share those student stories!

  22. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful piece on becoming a teacher!

  23. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Please read this inspiring account from Jennie, the extraordinary teacher!

  24. mitchteemley says:

    Wonderful, Jennie! I definitely plan to reblog this!

  25. Good job Jenny. Not all teachers can be like you. Not all teachers are able to provide very useful stories. Telling stories is the same as paying attention to children. It takes patience and a strong soul.

  26. Guntal says:

    Not all teachers are able to apply the light bulb moment. Putting children first is not easy. Jenny you are cool.

  27. Afriant Koto says:

    Surviving being a preschool teacher is amazing. You did it for years. I am very impressed with your manner and patience as Jennie’s teacher.

  28. Pingback: When I Became a ‘Real’ Teacher – MR YOUTUBE

  29. Version says:

    The gist of being a teacher💜
    Wow nice!

  30. meowilz7613 says:

    ‘A Hundred Little Things’ really resonates! And seeing you put it this way, it makes me realise that this works everywhere in matters of love – for children, for oneself, for others. Little moments of meaning build up.

    I have more to say, but no time now. I’ll come back to this later!

  31. My Rollercoaster Journey says:

    This is amazing and heartwarming! You are a great teacher!

  32. Pingback: When I Became a ‘Real’ Teacher – Great Feeling

  33. Your students are so lucky to have you. I wish all teachers had your love and knowledge.

  34. Very nicely described and written 👌

  35. Imagine- no, don’t- if you had looked at Andrew not sleeping and scolded him for it. I am so happy for you that you recognized all those little pathways to a warm and loving child-first learning community.

    • Jennie says:

      You are exactly right; had i scolded Andrew…well unfortunately that happens too often with teachers and children. Sigh! Yes, it’s the little pathways, the moments, that can make a difference. Thank you!

  36. mitchteemley says:

    Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:
    My Featured Blogger this week is Jennie Fitzkee of A Teacher’s Reflections. Jennie is one of the most inspiring bloggers you’ll ever read, and an acclaimed preschool teacher who’s methods are mentioned in the bestselling ‘The Read-Aloud Handbook’. But Jennie has more than mere talent or technique, she has a heartful of love for teaching–and for her children. Read and you’ll see!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Mitch! Your words are very, very kind and your reblog is greatly appreciated!

      • #hood says:

        0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100

      • mitchteemley says:

        The honor is mine, Jennie!

  37. Smitha V says:

    The children were fortunate to have you as their teacher. If only all teachers were like this, then all children would be inspired to learn and make a difference. Your post made me rethink if I had done the 100 little things as a mother. Thank you for sharing your experience and learning.

  38. K.L. Hale says:

    Jennie, this is why I love you and why a countless number of children, parents, and others, will never forget the impact you’ve had on the lives of all sizes. You’re all heart! Thank you for being a role model for all educators! 🤍💚🤗

  39. #hood says:

    hi jeannie can you count to 100 to go with the subject

  40. Ananda says:

    So inspiring Jennie 💙🙏

  41. Hauntingcomforts says:

    Insightful read, loved your story your light bulb moment. But I don’t know if the word “real” is the best term. I am still growing as a teacher. I still think it’s important to have that “you and me” wall as a protection of my own mental health. Teaching middle school has been a rather rough but interesting ride for me so far. I definitely need to develop more love for my students in terms of my mindset. I plan to write a post this week on how my struggles.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you’re growing as a teacher. It took be a long time to break the ‘you and me’ wall. I have to say it was enlightening, and also empowering. I felt as if I could finally relax with the children, and suddenly that made them change- they cared. Never forget how much children need you, not just the lessons you teach, but you. Middle schoolers have had a tough time these past two years. A smile and a hug can move emotional mountains.

      • Hauntingcomforts says:

        Just curious, what areas have you taught in, rural, suburbs, or urban?

      • Jennie says:

        Suburbs that are small, a tiny bit upscale, but not rural.

      • Hauntingcomforts says:

        Ah I see. I currently teach in an urban area.

      • Jennie says:

        I have a huge mix of diversity in families and in ‘where children are’ academically and emotionally. I’m sure you do, too. What drives me in teaching is knowing that these children really need me. Since Covid, it has been much harder for them. So, here’s what I do when a child is crying or sad: I ask, “Do you want me to rock you mama?” They know it’s the song “Wagon Wheel.” And, yes, they want it. So I holler, “Alexa, play Wagon Wheel.” Not only does it help the child, all the other children are watching. You need to find what works for you and your students. Do you read aloud to them? Chapter read? That can be a big bond.

      • Hauntingcomforts says:

        That’s really cool how you incorporate music in your class that way! I occasionally would read to them. Something I have been working on is sharing an insight quote from my reading book after we finish our silent reading time 😊

      • Jennie says:

        That’s a great idea! Silent reading is terrific.
        Do you get to read aloud?

      • Hauntingcomforts says:

        I would also ask students if they want to share a quote from their reading books and read it aloud.

      • Jennie says:

        That’s wonderful. If you also read aloud, it makes a huge connection. Promise. I can suggest books.

      • Hauntingcomforts says:

        What books for middle schoolers would you recommend? I read aloud only short quotes.

      • Jennie says:

        When you read a chapter a day from a great book, it makes a huge impact. I would recommend “The Wild Robot” by Peter Brown. I’ve read the book so many times to older children (4th to 9th grade) and they are glued. “Charlotte’s Web” is always wonderful, too. Urban kids probably haven’t heard this book.

      • Hauntingcomforts says:

        Thanks for the recs!

      • Jennie says:

        You’re welcome. I would also add Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

  42. HI Jennie, this a wonderful post. It is true that children know when someone is interested in them and loves them. I felt that to when I worked with small children. It is very rewarding.

  43. Carla says:

    Well said, Jennie. Like the saying goes, people will remember the ones who made a difference in their lives. You will be remembered by many.

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