12 Things Daycare Teachers Should Never Do

In the course of my career, I’ve had the pleasure to work with some truly amazing daycare/preschool teachers. These are the women and men who are almost always upbeat, almost always will give a much-needed hug, almost always engage the kids, almost always encourage them to be themselves, and do their damnest to make sure their kids are getting the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral support they need. At this point, I can walk into a classroom and almost instantly tell who the “good” teachers are. There will be no yelling at students, the students might be energetic and a bit crazy, but their voices and antics will be at an acceptable level, the kids will be engaged and focused, and everyone will be interacting with each other on a mostly respectful basis with hitting, stealing, and tattle-telling at a minimum. The kids will also be genuinely happy, excited to see another adult and willing to sit down and try whatever it is they’re offering. It’s a pleasure to walk into those classrooms and work with those teachers and students.

Then there’re the classrooms I don’t like. These will have the teachers constantly sitting, even when a child obviously needs help or discipline. The kids will either be completely crazy, flooding the room with screams, or deathly silent and still. Even in a visit of just a few minutes, the teachers will be yelling at the kids or clapping their hands at them or hauling them away with a sharp grip on their arm. The TV might be on, it might always be on, and what’s being shown won’t necessarily be appropriate for kids. And, while it’s not a given that these centers will be low-income, they often are as the administrators don’t have the time or concern to properly vet teachers, give them a decent budget, or work with parents to help the kids. And it will be really, really sad.

Despite my harsh criticisms, I’m actually pretty understanding of teachers. I had the misfortune of teaching for about two years at a school that had zero respect for me. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as I navigated trying to educate the disrespectful students who swore at me, threw things at me, and deliberately tried to get my goat and trying to maintain my sanity (and my temper). So I have great respect and great sympathy for teachers. It’s hard to be a teacher. You have administrators who don’t understand teaching trying to impose rules on you. You have parents either completely absent or trying to micromanage your work. Even without those two figures, you’re constantly overworked and underpaid and have to take home work and pay for supplies out of pocket (Daycare teachers are especially underpaid and disrespected because they’re not “real” teachers.). Some kids are completely undisciplined and even dangerous, and parents and administrators won’t do anything to stop that. Classroom budgets can be very small, meaning that teachers are either working with poor materials, none at all, or have to buy their own. And, of course, teachers are people who have good and bad days just like everyone else – however, they’re expected to (even demanded to) leave their entire personality at the door and be perfect every single day. It is incredibly difficult to be a teacher.

Nevertheless, there are some things I think are unacceptable for teachers (specifically, daycare teachers) to do. Teachers that do these are not the ones you want teaching, monitoring, and raising your kids. So here’s a list of 12 Things Daycare Teachers Should Never Do. If you’re one of the many wonderful, caring, compassionate, energetic, and loving daycare teachers out there, feel free to ignore this list and kiss your brain for being an awesome teacher. If you find that you’re doing some of these things (and frequently), it might be time to reevaluate yourself and figure out how to change. After all, the kids you’re teaching are in their most vulnerable cognitive and psychological states. They can’t afford to be bullied and abused like this.

  1. Raising your voice at a non-native English speaker. In several of the classes I visit, there are children who don’t speak English as their first language – or at all. So it’s understandable that when you’re speaking in English they won’t listen to you. But it’s completely unacceptable to shout at them. They won’t understand, you’re going to scare or fluster them, and it’s actually more difficult to understand a foreign language when the person is shouting. A better option is to go to the child and show them what you want. At age 2 – 5, kids are actually very insightful and pick up on cues very quickly. I’ve been able to get non-native English speaking kids to do things like turn around, put their hands in their lap, put the caps back on the markers, and be patient just by being patient myself, showing them exactly what to do, and repeating my instructions in as simple and visual a manner as possible. Yes, it takes time, but it really pays off, both in discipline and in language skills.
  2. Refusing to learn another language when the kids you teach primarily speak it. While it is not reasonable for every teacher to learn the language of every child they teach, it is nonetheless helpful to know a few words in that language, especially if it’s a language as common as Spanish. This will also help you bond with the child faster and encourage them to learn English. You don’t have to learn everything but simple words and phrases like, “How are you?”, “Good job!”, “Sit down,” “Please be quiet,” and “Thank you” are good starters. However, don’t just learn commands like “Sit down!”, “Be quiet!”, and “Stop that!” Only using a child’s native language negatively will force them to cling to it and not want to engage in another language. Finally, do your best to get the pronunciation right. In some languages, it’s almost impossible for someone to understand you when you’re not pronouncing things correctly. So if they don’t respond, that doesn’t mean that they’re deliberately ignoring you – it means that they literally have no idea what gibberish you’re trying to say.
  3. Snapping at, waving at, or clapping your hands to try to get a child’s attention – especially while shouting. As older kids and adults, we frequently wave our hands to get people’s attention, especially if they’re spacing out. However, that’s not a viable option for younger kids. Doing so will either seem violent or be distracting and will set a pattern for when the kid gets older. Calling his name is a good substitute – or, better yet, going over to him and placing your hand on his shoulder and saying his name.
  4. Watching too much TV. There are some parents who think kids shouldn’t be watching any TV while at daycare or preschool. After all, if they were going to pay hundreds of dollars a month to let their kids watch TV, why not just keep them at home? However, there are some good programs out there like Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues that teach kids how to interact with each other, help them learn a new language, and teach them to focus their attention. It can also be extremely helpful from a teaching perspective to put in a 15-minute episode of Curious George while you clean up from an activity, take some of the kids to the bathroom, or change diapers. What becomes a problem is when that’s all you’re doing. TV should not be the cornerstone of your lessons, it should not be how you’re teaching kids their colors or numbers, and it should not be more than a few minutes of their day. It also should not be an excuse for you to take a break, allowing you to leave them alone for half an hour while you talk on the phone, read a book, or go off on your own. That’s completely unacceptable.
  5. Watching child-inappropriate TV. I’ve actually walked into classrooms where the teachers were playing adult-aimed documentaries or sitcoms and yelling at the kids to sit down and watch. The kids were completely bored and disengaged and getting nothing out of it. The TV is not a babysitter, especially in a classroom setting, and when it’s used, it should be used for the betterment of the child. If you’re going to use TV, you have to be smart about it.
  6. Allowing the kids to play video games. At age 2 – 5, kids don’t need to be playing video games. Yes, there are several educational and engaging games that they can play to increase their coordination and help them learn to match and put things in sequence, but games like that usually don’t require a console. Instead, you can find them on computers and tablets (Tablets are actually especially helpful because kids can use their hands, improving their coordination.). When I walk into a classroom and see a child with a controller in their hand, I know this is a bad situation. So I know that kids love video games, I know that they probably play them at home, I know that they love mashing buttons, but video games in the daycare are still grossly inappropriate. And if you’re allowing kids to play computer games, keep it to 15 minutes at most. They really should be doing sensory activities instead.
  7. Refusing to allow kids to create their own, individualistic artwork. When doing art with kids, there are two ways to approach it: 1) have them follow the directions or 2) allow them to do whatever they want with the materials at hand. At age 2 – 5, the first option is not really viable. Kids often lack the attention, imagination, and patience to try to replicate a sample exactly. It’s also better to allow them to explore and create in a friendly, safe environment so that they can develop confidence and self-esteem. And yet, I’ve seen teachers rip crafts out of kids’ hands, remove what they had just put down, and hold their hands over kids’ so that they color the “right” way. Following directions and learning to grip and hold things are important skills, but we also have to give kids the freedom to create and express themselves. They’re important aspects to developing their personality.
  8. Imposing rigid gender expectations on the kids. I have a feeling that I’m going to get some pushback on this, but I stand by it. Colors, activities, and professions are not gender-specific and should not be reinforced that way. Boys and girls should be allowed to play equally with any color or toy that they want. I love it when the boys reach for the pink crayons, and I’m always excited when a teacher agrees with me that boys can use pink and girls can be knights and we should all be kind to each other. Limiting what clothes, colors, or toys a child can use limits their creativity and self-expression. We should be encouraging children to be authentically themselves, not restricting them. It is vitally important that they begin to develop personality and confidence at this age. Without it, they will not be effective and functional adults.
  9. Unfairly punishing certain students. When you have a child who is a troublemaker, often taking things, hurting other students, or breaking things, it is tempting to blame them for everything, but that does no one any good. Perhaps that child has undiagnosed developmental problems, an unstable home life, or is just testing boundaries. Either way, they need more attention. They also can’t always be in the wrong. At age 2 – 5, it is common for children to not know how to express frustration, take play too far, or experiment with hurting others, so it’s just as likely that another child is the one that created the problem. Don’t just immediately punish your troublemaking students. Also, don’t immediately punish your boys or your black children. Don’t coddle the girls or tell them they’re not being ladylike. Do your best to treat all of them equally and approach the situation as fairly as possible. Don’t discriminate.
  10. Isolating students with developmental or cognitive disabilities. Sometimes, you will teach a child who is behind the other children in some way. They might have autism, they might have a developmental disorder, or they might have a physical handicap. It is not acceptable to isolate them. There is a difference between giving them special allowances and just putting them to the side, telling them to be quiet, telling them not to bother the other children, or telling them to stay on the computer. Yes, these children can be a handful, sometimes screaming just to get a reaction or breaking into tears when frustrated, but they still deserve an education, a caring teacher, and a classroom of peers.
  11. Being disruptive or absent when another teacher is doing something. As an adult, you should know better than to be disruptive when another teacher, volunteer, or professional is doing something with the kids. It distracts both the volunteer and the kids and models inappropriate behavior. It’s equally unhelpful to be absent when another adult is working with the kids. You know these children best. You know their personalities and their names. You know when they need discipline, free range, or extra help. You should be present to monitor them, especially if the volunteer is new or there have been discipline problems that week. A volunteer coming is not an excuse to take a break.
  12. Constantly forgetting about your habitual volunteers. This is a personal pet peeve. If you enter into an agreement that a volunteer will come every two weeks and do a certain activity, you need to schedule class time around it. The kids should be calm and prepared for the activity. They should not be outside, about to go outside, or running wild around the room. You should not just tell the volunteer to come back in two weeks or ask if they can come another day. Doing so will indicate to the volunteer that you don’t respect them and don’t want them to come, which will lead them to cancel the program. While you may not be upset about that, the children will be. They will have lost a valuable experience. Don’t take away programs from children just because you’re irresponsible or careless.
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