Early Childhood Education Professor, Penn Foster College
Second-year professor Sarah Lathrop made a big jump when she joined Penn Foster College. Before teaching adult learners, Lathrop, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Shippensburg University, worked extensively with children as a preschool teacher and a substitute teacher.
She also spent time as a group supervisor in an infant-care setting and as a nursery attendant. From substituting to disciplinary methods, Lathrop pulls from her own experiences to offer insight to new early childhood educators.
Reflecting back to your first year as an educator, what is one thing you wish you would’ve known/been told in college?
Lathrop: “Like many recent graduates in my area, my first year was spent as a substitute teacher. I really wish that there was a course on being an effective substitute!”
“As the weeks went by, I discovered a variety of guidelines, including to have multipurpose lesson plans prepared in the off chance that the teacher did not leave lesson plans to follow, to be prepared for any situation that may arise (including surprise field trips), and that head counts are vital.”
In today’s time where many public school districts are eliminating programs in elementary schools, how do you feel about them beginning with fine arts programs? Do you think fine arts programs are important for young children?
Lathrop: “I am puzzled as to why fine arts programs always seem to be the first on the chopping block. I don’t understand how we can label music, theater, dance, or art as an extracurricular activity, let alone one that can easily fall to the wayside.”
“Fine arts programs are very important. I don’t think it’s possible to teach a holistic curriculum without the fine arts. Not only do they provide a unique outlet for a child to express their creativity or individuality, we know that these programs have an impact upon all areas of a child’s development as they engage all four lobes of the brain.”
Several school districts have had to make budget cuts in recent years, which include laying off teachers. In this time of uncertainty in the workforce, why do you think it’s still a good investment to pursue a degree in education?
Lathrop: “I think that education is a very worthwhile and rewarding field to enter. While it may be a time of uncertainty, education is a vital part of our society. If it is a career path you are considering, I would encourage you to do so.”
“We need passionate and motivated educators who are willing to dedicate their careers to making a positive difference in the life of a child, adolescent or adult. I truly cannot imagine pursuing any other career option!”
Which discipline methods do you find work best with young children?
Lathrop: “I definitely support a guidance technique when it comes to working with young children. In my opinion, gentle reminders, redirection, intervention considerations, and preparing the classroom and activities in a way that facilitates positive behavior are the keys to a successful classroom.”
Being a new teacher can be a bit nerve-wracking. Any tips to ease the first-year jitters?
Lathrop: “I think that it is very important to have a plan. Make sure that you a consistent with your approach and guidelines, and that you are remembering to take care of yourself as well as the children.”
“Also, it is important to remember you are not the only one with jitters as this will be a new experience for your children as well. Jitters are normal, and for me settling into a consistent routine both at school and at home helped me with my transition.”
Do you still have the same perspective on teaching as when you started?
Lathrop: “I have a much greater appreciation for what it means to teach since I started. I always respected teachers and thought I had a bit more understanding of what it entailed coming from a family of educators, but I don’t think you can truly understand what it means to be a teacher until you are one.”
“You are not just there to teach. You are there to nurture your children cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically. I think that it is very important to keep a positive perspective and remember what made you want to become a teacher in the first place.”
How do you stay motivated throughout the school year?
Lathrop: “What motivated me the most in the classroom was the fact that I truly love teaching! I don’t think that being a teacher is something that you will be motivated to do if you are not passionate about it. I truly looked forward to coming to work and making it a positive day.”
Any advice for first-year teachers?
Lathrop: “I believe that the first thing you need to do is to build a rapport with your students and gain their trust. Being actively involved in their lives and truly interested is very important! (Children can tell who is genuine and who is not.)”
“I kept a file on each of my children, adding likes, dislikes, and personal tidbits. As the weeks went by, I wouldn’t need to refer to their files as much, but it helped me to get to know them.”
“Do not be afraid to tweak a lesson in progress if it is going over like a lead balloon or to scrap it all together! I have learned more from some of the activities that have flopped than from some of my most successful activities.”