Keep calm and don't stop smiling.
I'm five weeks and a few days into my new job as a preschool teacher. A certain degree of routine has begun to emerge. Every morning I look into the mirror and think, "You are a strong confident woman and these hoodlums will not get the best of you."
Why did I decide to teach preschool? I wonder on the very worst day. (This is typically a day I've been spit, farted, peed and pooped on; bit, smacked, and screamed at.) It's not a particularly well-paying job. On occasion, I have to spend my own money to get the materials I need to expand a lesson plan. There's an enormous amount of work, a school director I can't seem to please and parents determined that I guarantee their offspring entrance into Harvard. At the end of the day I'm covered in various bodily fluids, paint, and glue. Play dough is buried under my fingernails. I am often so tired that I can barely parent my own kids.
Yeah, it sucks. I should seriously consider quitting.
But I LOVE my job. The absolute joy I feel when I connect with a child is beyond compare. The excitement I see in their eyes when they make a discovery makes up for every germ that makes me sick. The hugs, the tickles, the unrestrained giggles, the frantic begging for one more story Miss Elissa!!! is enough to fill my heart. I find myself getting attached to my students, even the ones who seem determined to break my spirit. Especially them. The children who are most resistant are the ones that challenge me, inspire me, and energize me the most. I think about them on my commute home. I research their behaviors during my lunch hour. And I make lists of activities to do to keep them engaged, occupied and happy.
Life has kept me out of the classroom for the past decade. Between the births of my daughter and twins, personal health struggles, and marriage to a man intent on relocating us every 2-3 years, it was simpler for me to have part time retail jobs than manage a classroom of 20 rowdy children. Fortunately, teaching isn't really that much different than any job. Here are some commonalities:
1. Keep a positive attitude and be sure you're always smiling.
As a preschool teacher, you always need to have a smile on your face and a calm demeanor. This is because children can sense when you're defeated/exhausted/overwhelmed and will retaliate with the pent up energy of a starving lioness stalking a herd of axis deer. Also, if you stand in a preschool classroom for only 5 minutes you will see a child spill something or break something and hear screams and screeches from every corner of the room. When you watch a kid spill an entire pitcher of juice all over that morning's art project (my experience yesterday), your natural reaction may be to scream in their face, “Why do you have the worst motor skills ever? And why would you think your tiny ineffectual little baby arms are strong enough to properly handle a gallon of liquid?” but you can’t do that because they will freak out and cry and probably develop some strange complex where they're terrified to drink juice. Instead, you force a smile, take a deep breath, and say, “It’s OK. I’m glad to see you're trying to be independent, but sometimes we need to ask for help.”
The same rule can be applied to customer service. Imagine you're working with a customer trying to sell a dress. After a long morning of failed sales, you might be a bit defeated. Instead of being an energetic, creative, competent employee, you might sound like Dwight Schrute. If you appear miserable with the customer, they won't want to do business with you. But if you're smiling, you'll find that people are more likely to make a purchase.
2. Your attitude affects those around you.
One of the most important things to be mindful of in the classroom is the way you speak to your students. If you're a screaming, screeching harpie, your students will eventually speak to their classmates in the same manner.
The same is true in any office job. If you come into work and act like a big cranky pants, eventually it's going to rub off on your office mates. The way you speak to a client will affect the way they interract with you too. Which brings me to my next point.
3. It's not personal.
As we age, we learn how to control our emotions, which is something that preschoolers do not get. Sometimes a child will be playing with a toy they can't figure out. Instead of calmly and rationally asking their teacher for help, they will scream with the pitch of a cat in heat and throw the toy across the room, where it will bounce of the head of a innocent classmate. Most likely this little terror didn't get enough sleep last night, or they're missing their mom, or they didn't eat enough for breakfast. In any case, the problem usually isn't the toy, and when you hand them the same thing tomorrow morning they'll happily play with it.
Though we adults mostly have control over our emotions, this isn't always the case. At my last job, I saw a customer accidentally back into another customer's car in the parking lot. When she was confronted about it, she launched into a verbal assault so nasty, so vitriolic, I blushed. Hard. Maybe she got bad news that morning; maybe she didn't get enough sleep. Everyone has bad days. Giving them the benefit of the doubt can go pretty far.