So what is the difference between a good and great preschool teacher?

Once you leave the realm of “daycare” and daycares masquerading as preschools, the evaluation of a preschool really becomes an exercise in evaluating preschool teachers. To get right down to it, the teachers make the difference in quality preschools. You need to evaluate preschools based on your knowledge of your child – but how do you evaluate a preschool teacher?

Many of us rely on our instincts. While this instinct is often correct, much of this “feel” is based on the teacher’s personality. As such we will tend to gravitate toward teachers that are best for us as adults and may inadvertently neglect considerations that are best for our child. While a particular preschool teacher may not be the person you want to hang out with on a Saturday night – that same person may indeed be the best teacher for your child.

How to objectively evaluate a preschool teacher?

The best way to evaluate a preschool teacher is to watch them in action. However, this should be informed observation, not just a stylistic evaluation. When observing a preschool teacher look for these characteristics. (If a preschool will not allow you to observe a class, there is likely a reason for it, look else where.)

    Emotional Support of Preschool Children
  1. Does the teacher create a positive environment?
    • The best preschool teachers create a emotional connection with the children that both children and the teacher finds enjoyable and supportive.
    • Exceptional preschool teachers facilitate, encourage and even reward positive and supportive emotional connections between preschool children.
  2. Does the teacher manage and limit negative aspects of the environment?
    • Quality preschool teachers do not confused behavior management and discipline with expressions of anger or hostility on the teachers part.
    • Great preschool teachers also manage hostility and aggression of preschool children directed toward each other to minimize negative influences while encouraging self-expression and emotional fluency
  3. Is the teacher sensitive to preschool student academic and emotional needs?
    • Sensitivity is not enough – exceptional preschool teachers are both sensitive and responsive to the needs of their students.
  4. Does the teacher respect the opinions and perspective of preschool children?
    • The good teachers are backed by a strong curriculum, but great preschool teachers design their curriculum to balance both the academic and emotional needs of preschool students.
    • Great preschool teachers guide students through a curriculum and class activities that emphasis preschool students’ interests and points of view to better encourage joy in the learning process.

    Preschool Classroom Management

  5. How does the teacher manage preschool student behavior?
    • Great preschool teachers monitor student and classroom activities to encourage exploration and growth while simultaneously preventing and redirecting negative behavior.
  6. Does the preschool teacher direct the classroom to balance curriculum productivity with student self-actualization?
    • Exceptional preschool teachers respect routines and the stabilizing effects they have on preschool children.
    • Truly exceptional preschool teachers design and manage these routines to insure that they maximize learning time in its many forms
  7. Does the preschool teacher have multiple instructional formats to aid children regardless of learning style?
    • Good preschool teachers have mastered instructional technique, great preschool teachers have mastered multiple instructional formats
    • Exceptional preschool teachers understand and implement instructional formats that preschool students and their parent often perceive as open “play” time. For many lower quality preschool teachers – play time is just that – play, because the teacher hasn’t mastered that instructional format.

    Can the teacher teach or do they just lecture and drill?

  8. Can the preschool teacher genuinely stimulate and encourage higher-order thinking?
    • Memorization may work for MCAS but it actually undermines a preschool students executive function and higher order thinking skills. Great preschool teachers know this and know how to implement activities that promote high-order thinking.
  9. Can the teacher encourage and reward high quality feedback from preschool children?
    • The Socratic method in preschool? A great preschool teacher will encourage a child express their opinion and use the opportunity to help build both the student’s confidence and ability to reason
  10. Can the teacher motivate the development of a preschool student’s language skills?
    • A good preschool teacher will encourage students to expand and use their vocabulary.
    • A great preschool teacher will have specific strategies and activities that facilitate, encourage and give the student the opportunity and motivation to explore and expand their understanding and use of language to express themselves.

Preschool teachers, not the facility, not the community, not the heritage, make all of the difference between one preschool and the next. The preschool teachers in the high quality preschool can be identified by all of these traits. Once you find a great preschool teacher, you have traveled 90% of the distance needed to find a great preschool. The rest is up to you in choosing the best preschool (and preschool teachers) that are right for your child.