By Pat Caldwell
VALE – He was excited because it was his birthday. That meant treats at his Vale Elementary School kindergarten class.
When the boy’s teacher, Sheri DeLong, gently asked him who was bringing treats, he shrugged.
DeLong realized that his parents weren’t delivering treats for the class. Perhaps they forgot. Maybe the boy failed to tell them they needed to bring something. Maybe money was an issue.
All DeLong knew was she needed to make the occasion happen.
So she went out and bought treats for the little boy.
“You know these kids. And, when you get involved with them you feel like you have to do something for them,” DeLong said.
Maybe helping the boy is a small thing, but in DeLong’s classroom the details make a big difference.
Providing treats for her students on a birthday or buying them gloves in the winter is just one part of a complex job that is, at its essence, about introducing very young children to education.
“I love the age of the kids. Watching them grow and learn. They are excited to learn,” DeLong said.
At first glance teaching children just out of pre-school may seem, if not simple, than at least straightforward.
It is not.
Kindergarten has changed with a greater emphasis on learning and meeting educational standards than 10 or even 20 years ago.
The expectations, driven by federal and state mandates and teachers themselves, are higher now, DeLong said.
“There are way more academics. Kindergarten is not the play place it used to be. We have very little time for that,” DeLong said.
DeLong’s kindergarten class is a busy place.
“There is always something to do in the classroom,” said DeLong, who has taught kindergarten at Vale Elementary for 13 years.
“There is so much to it,” said DeLong. “There is always something to be done, another kid you need to get to.”
DeLong can go from cutting paper for a math lesson to managing the progress of her students in six learning groups.
“All of them are in a different place. Each group has a separate plan and different homework,” said DeLong.
DeLong said her job is a juggling act while working to hold onto short attention spans.
“One wants to talk about his bike while another one is trying to tie their shoe and I am teaching math,” said DeLong.
The key? That’s easy, DeLong said.
“I try to keep it fun,” she said. “I do silly things, like dance if they do well.”
Yet setting boundaries and rules is important too, DeLong said.
“I believe kids like to know what to expect,” said DeLong.
DeLong spends a significant amount of time preparing the lessons and planning for the next day and the next week. For example, she was at her classroom – preparing, fixing, and planning – until 8 p.m. on a recent Friday. On Sunday she was back at her classroom, organizing for the next week.
Buying treats or providing a coat or gloves during the winter is also part of the job.
Class size for DeLong fluctuated over the years she said. This year she teachers 21 students. One year she taught 26 and another there were 25 youngsters in her class.
DeLong said some years are harder than others. The 2016-2017 academic stretch was particularly difficult for DeLong as she endured three knee surgeries.
Yet she remained focused on her classroom and said she welcomes part participation.
“I tell parents, come in, see what we are doing. I welcome it. I think it really benefits parents when they come in,” said DeLong.