A good teacher of such young children needs many qualities, not least being patience, reliability and understanding of what it is to be a small child in the 21st century. They need also a positive attitude towards education and to have knowledge of normal development and what can be expected at each stage, and indeed what order the stages come in. This will mean that they can assess at the beginning of the school year the stage a child has already attained in areas such as reading, mathematics or social development, especially if this is a child’s first year at school so there are no previous professional records to consult, and will then be enabled to chart individual progress as it is made, both in formal records and mark books and mentally as they come to know each individual child. They will be aware that a child cannot complete certain tasks until they are psychologically and, in some cases, physiologically mature enough to do so. Children develop at different rates and may in some cases be further on than average in some area such as reading, but be below average in another - perhaps spatial awareness or in social skills. They need also to be able to convey their ideas on such matters to parents and even to children who may feel a sense of failure if others can do what they, as yet, cannot.
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They need to be aware of the works of writers on the subject such as Piaget, even if they do not always agree with every one of their pronouncements. His ideas about such matters as conservation will always be valid– the idea that things stay the same even if moved about, as when a child realises that a piece of clay will weigh the same when rolled out thinly as when it is in a large ball.
An ability to get on with colleagues and with parents is essential. The teacher must be approachable so that parents feel free to voice any worries they may have or information they need to impart and colleagues need to be aware that here is someone who is professionally dependable.
Dealing with young children requires organizational skills – in the geography of the classroom – are supplies where a child can reach them? Are displays at the right height - not aimed to impress the occasional adult visitor , but at a level a child can best appreciate them. It may be necessary for a teacher to design their own record keeping system, or this may be provided by the school or local authority. They must be up to date with any necessary record keeping. Resources need to be organised so that as little time as possible is wasted when lesson planning. Lessons should be planned ahead so that the teacher can see long term where things are going, with clear aims and objectives, descriptions of how these might be achieved and also with comments afterwards as to how the lessons were received and whether or not aims were achieved and why certain things did or did not succeed.. Budgeting may be an issue – does one spend money on paints and easels or upon rulers and books? An awareness of how long a particular resource, such as a pile of drawing paper or a pot of glue, is likely to last can be a useful skill
The teacher needs to be aware of guidelines, rules and laws provided by the school or by local or national authorities both as to such matters as the curriculum, but also with regard to standards expected, aims, mission statements and health and safety issues.
They must be good record keepers, so that they and others can easily refer to records when necessary and they are aware for instance when a child is consistently absent or isn’t progressing as might be expected. This will also enable others such as the head teacher to be easily aware of what is planned and achieved. A teacher who keeps written records will be more easily able to judge whether the curriculum is balanced with sufficient emphasis and time being given to such things as speaking skills, listening and physical activities as well as such areas as reading, writing and arithmetic.
They should be aware of current trends and so will take opportunities to attend further training as necessary. There is always a need for fresh ideas and so they need to be aware of resources that are available such as on websites like Early Years.
They must carry authority if necessary discipline is to be maintained. Children need to feel the security of having rules and someone in charge.
It may be that they are working in a multi-lingual, multi-racial situation and should be aware of special pressures this can cause, for example sending letters home to a family for whom English is not the first tongue. Children come to school for the first time with varied abilities different backgrounds and levels of input and expectation from their families or carers. A teacher needs to be aware of such differences and offer extra support where needed. Some children will come to school already with some reading abilities and be very familiar with how books work, while others may come from homes where there are no books and where education is not particularly valued. A good teacher will meet the specific needs of both - by sharing books with the latter and by encouraging and stretching the abilities of the former.
There is a need to understand even at this age differences between the sexes – girls tend generally to be more articulate than boys of a similar age. There should be allowances made for such differences with boys being encouraged to participate verbally and the achievements of all children, not just the quick and able and obvious, need to be recognised.
All this requires training and a teacher should have a recognised qualification that meets the required standard. This can either be a specialist purely teaching qualification or a post graduate degree in teaching. This will not only ensure that they have reached an acceptable standard , such as those set out by the National Association for the education of Young Children, but should also mean plenty of experience in a classroom before they take on the responsibility of being the person in charge. They will see during their training a variety of individual personalities, situations and methods and it is these will help them to formulate their own methods and styles within the necessary boundaries imposed by particular institutions and situations. There needs to be consideration of outcomes as well as processes and a balanced attention to knowledge, skills and dispositions thus ensuring a happy and effective classroom experience, a classroom where each child, whatever their abilities is able to participate fully, where they can, as is possible, take some responsibility for their own learning, whether this just means something as simple as remembering to take home a reading book or helping to decide classroom rules. Children need to acquire thinking skills as outlined on the web page Early Years, Teaching Expertise, and this includes thinking for themselves.
Seeing a young child’s delight as they realise what they can achieve as they adapt to the world in which they find themselves is the reward for all this hard work.
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