Back-To-School Is The 7th Circle of Pre-K Teacher Hell

by Leslie Gaar
Originally Published: 
A brown-haired boy with brown eyes looking straight and holding his finger next to his nose

I loved teaching pre-k. Over the course of my teaching career I taught several different grade levels, but pre-k was my absolute favorite. There were days when, after pretending to be a frog catching a fly during storytime, or seeing a child write her name for the first time, I would think, How am I getting paid to have this much fun!?

But the beginning of the year? That’s another story.

The first six weeks of pre-k are absolute hell as a teacher. Every year—every single year—I would drag my tired ass home after another long day, wondering why, whhhyyyy had I chosen to work with 4-year-olds? I couldn’t remember all of the good stuff that came along later in the year, and I was sure that my principal had given me a class full of hellions just to spite me.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask. “Don’t you just toss them some Play-Doh and call it a day?” My dear, sweet, innocent child. I’m so glad you asked. Come closer and all shall be explained.

1. Your students are 48-months-old.

I know that translates to 4 years, but let me tell you, it feels like 48 months. Being 48 months old, your students are still learning the basics of how to be civilized human beings, such as sharing blocks and not peeing on friends. And let’s just say it takes a lot of practice to get those things down.

2. It’s probably the first time they’ve been away from home.

Oh, they might have stayed with Grandma for a few hours or even overnight, but this is usually their first time away from home for any extended period of time. And since they just met you at Meet The Teacher night—along with their 20 other classmates—they might be a teensy bit freaked out at the prospect of leaving their mom’s side to hang with you all day. It probably also doesn’t help that mom won’t stop taking pictures and get the hell out of the classroom.

3. Fight or flight is their main plan of action.

During the first month of school, I wore sneakers every day to be able to go after what we teachers lovingly referred to as “the runners.” Sometimes you could spot a runner before he made a break for the door, but other times it happened out of nowhere. You’d be in the middle of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and look up to see the tail end of a kid hauling it out of your classroom. I was always convinced that sooner or later one of them would actually escape, and I’d end up on the evening news as the teacher who was halfway through lunch before she realized that one of her students was riding a city bus around town.

4. They don’t know how to do anything.

Again, 48-months-old, first time at school. Think they know how to do things like walk in a line or even how to make a line? Think again. They can’t even button their own pants or open glue bottles.

5. You have to teach them those things.

I’m 99% sure that my prematurely-gray hair came from teaching 25 pre-kindergarteners how to walk in a line year after year. You try to use tricks like telling them to pretend they’re a train. You read books and practice and use cute props. But despite your best efforts, the back part of the line always ends up bending around to the front—like a giant piece of Laffy Taffy—and always at dismissal, when the parents and your principal are watching.

6. They have the attention span of a gnat.

When you are learning how to teach young children, all of the instructors tell you that 48-month-olds have an attention span of about 8 minutes, tops. Now multiply that times a 6-hour school day, and you quickly see how many activities teachers have to plan. (Let me know what that number is—I only had to teach kids how to count to 20.) And heaven help you if a real gnat flies into your room during a lesson—you might as well just pack it up and call it a day.

7. There are millions of them.

They are everywhere at all times. Just when you think you’ve gotten everyone off of the playscape and back in line after recess, another one pops up, like some demented version of whack-a-mole. In many states there is no limit to class sizes for pre-k, so they really pack the students in there. The logic here is that you wouldn’t ask one person to babysit 25 4-year-olds at a time, but one teacher should totally be able to handle it. Seems legit.

8. They catch things from each other.

And I don’t just mean germs. If one of them starts crying, they all start crying. If one of them starts puking, they’re taking the whole ship down with them. Few things strike fear in the heart of a teacher faster than a student who starts belting out “Let It Go” in the middle of morning circle.

9. They have enough energy to power the state of Texas for a year.

You probably know this from your own kids, who likely suck their energy from you in a leech-like fashion. Now imagine a whole classroom full of that.

Mercifully, somewhere around November things start settling down. Like an early Christmas miracle, your little troops start getting into the groove, and that’s when the fun begins. But until then, you’re doing a daily tango with insanity.

So now you know.

Do you have a little guy who just started school? Then why are you still reading this and not at the liquor store getting his teacher a bottle of scotch?

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