Shantel Zimmerman describes her favorite part of teaching as, “truthfully, the kids. It is so much fun. I tell [my husband] I get to go to work and play everyday teaching. Where else can an almost 50-year-old be silly and whimsical and get paid for it?”
Shantel has taught at Primrose School of Heritage Wake Forest in Wake Forest, North Carolina for nearly a decade. She first received her bachelor’s degree and returned to school to receive her master’s in elementary education. “I originally wanted to be a high school teacher. I changed my major in college because I didn’t think I had the patience to be with elementary or younger,” said Shantel. “Having my daughter showed me I did have the patience, so when she started school, I went back to younger kids. I like them, they’re more fun.”
For Shantel, being a parent helps develop her teaching style for young children. She also credits her style to “the classes I took, interesting articles I come across [and] talking to other teachers. It’s really just trying to see what works for you and what works with the age group you’re with.”
Her advice is to be flexible to others teaching in the field. “You can have something planned to do with your class and it may get tossed out the window in the first five minutes. It all depends on the mood of the kids. My key thing is to be flexible and go with the flow because you never know where it’s going to take you,” said Shantel.
The most rewarding part of teaching for Shantel is “having fun with the kids and watching them grow.” It’s all about the kids for her. “Watching what my kids have learned in the nine months I have them amazes me and makes me want to do more every day,” she said.
“I don’t always look back at my own journey. Doing so lets me know I’ve been through a lot and I made it. I’m still making it. I’ll have my Bachelor’s degree soon!” Naukisha Wray-Darity is now back in school after many years without the financial means to do so. She had exhausted her pell grant and federal funding on past education and her center was not originally participating in the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program because they did not fully understand how cost-effective it could be. Things are different now.
Naukisha teaches in the center her sister owns. Her sister tried to convince Naukisha to join her in the early childhood field when she first opened her program, but it wasn’t until after Naukisha had her son that she realized she had a gift. She created learning tools for him and her nephew and was helping them both learn through play. She decided she could help other children, too. She started working in the afterschool program and then became the full-time teacher for 3- and 4-year olds. “I fell in love with it,” she said.
Although Naukisha had already earned a two-year degree in another field, her success working with children made her want to share and learn more, so she completed her associate degree in Early Childhood Education and enough coursework to earn additional degrees, including an associate in Special Education. But that wasn’t enough. “I preach to my children all the time about the importance of college and degrees, and I wanted to meet the same standard I was setting for them.” The problem was finding the money to do it once her other options were exhausted. She said, “We really didn’t understand T.E.A.C.H. – what the percentages meant.” After talking with another participating center, they decided to give it a try.
Now Naukisha is on a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship and she continues to receive her Child Care WAGE$® supplements. She has been on WAGE$ since 2009, with ever-increasing supplement awards that reflected her ongoing education. “WAGE$ has helped me want to continue on with school,” Naukisha shared. “As a single mom at the time, my checks have helped me pay for child care and feed my kids. It helped me pay for books and classes. I don’t know what it hasn’t helped me do! Without WAGE$, it would be hard to stay in the business even though I love it. It has saved me from leaving the industry. I remember when my boys were starting school one year and I didn’t have the funds to buy what they needed. I had no idea how I was going to get through it. That Saturday, the WAGE$ check came. It was like Christmas because I could make sure my children had what they needed. They didn’t understand how hard things were for me.”
Naukisha uses her story to provide encouragement to other teachers in her child care program.
Written by Kay Ducharme, Regional
CCR&R Senior Manager at CCSA
Becoming a Gigi
Guess what? I finally became a grandmother! Over the past three years, I have had the honor of becoming a grandmother (or Gigi, as my oldest granddaughter Mila calls me) to three little girls. I used to wonder why my friends never seemed to have time for me anymore after they had grandchildren. I actually found myself feeling sorry for some of them because they were always consumed with babysitting when I wanted to go do fun things on weekends. Now, I understand. “Mila adventures” occur on my weekends now, and I love every minute of them. I find myself doing things such as going to the kiddie splash pad, brushing billy goats, riding carousels, planting flowers, visiting playgrounds, shopping for shoes and other weekend girly things. We have gone through so many things, such as potty training, sleep issues, screen time limits, visits to petting farms and zoos, being gentle with animals, learning to walk dogs, etc.
Not Now, Gigi, I’m Busy Writing My Dissertation!
As a former preschool teacher many years ago, I was fascinated with language development. As I worked with young children, I tended to focus on language skills, and obviously do the same with my grandchildren. My oldest daughter is trying to finish her Ph.D. and is on the last leg of completing her dissertation. She called me the other day and told me Mila’s teacher had just called saying that Mila had been standing over a whiteboard. The teacher asked Mila why she was standing up to write. Mila’s reply was, “I am working on my dissertation.” I have heard Mila say that she was working on her dissertation many times and didn’t even think about it being different because this dissertation is something we talk about frequently in our family.
As a result of being a Gigi, I have a renewed appreciation
of what we do at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for parents, young
children and early care and education professionals. I am keenly aware of child
care deserts for infants and toddlers, the cost of child care and the
navigation systems that parents use to unravel the mystery of child care for
their young children. I have visited and observed child care programs as a Gigi
and talked with teachers about their days and how things work in their
programs. I am amazed at how much they are accomplishing. I see new things that
Mila learns at her preschool every week and am in total awe of her development,
but most of all those language skills.
Mila really doesn’t know what a dissertation is, but she does
know that it involves writing. No one actually prompted Mila to say the word
but obviously has heard it numerous times at home, and it just comes naturally.
As I watch my younger grandchildren learning language
skills, I am reminded of what we need to do even with young infants. We respond
to their crying at first because we want to understand what they are trying to
tell us. This takes practice, but if you really pay attention, you will
understand. When they begin babbling, we imitate their sounds and help them
learn new ones.
Recently, I listened to my younger granddaughters as they
were learning to make sounds and navigate through the house by crawling or
walking around wobbling from side to side. One of them kept repeating the “B”
and “M” sounds that she had just learned, and her mother would imitate her
attempts. They had great games going back and forth, and truly there was a lot
of glee and bonding! Finally, she started saying “momma” by the end of the week,
and this week she has learned to follow directions and kiss her momma when
Young children, as we all know, do repeat what they hear and imitate what they see. Conversations with parents aid in language development and nurtures learning. Talk at home is a powerful tool in the development of language and communication skills. Talking with babies and young children in natural tones and modeling the words that we want them to adopt is extremely important. Instead of teaching Mila the word “dissertation,” we used the word many times while we were around her. It is meaningful to her. Hopefully one day, she will write a real “dissertation” as she explores her own world!
When around young children, it is important to relax and
talk to them. Children are listening and understand much more than we sometimes
give them credit for. Making them perform their new language skills can
sometimes make them clam up, so be careful that you are not asking for
Remember that play and language development go hand-in-hand. A great deal of language is developed through pretend play. Give them lots of opportunities to talk, sing and read books. Reading books with rhyming words and sounds, or singing songs are great ways to develop language skills.
Sometimes language skills emerge over a long period of time
and sometimes they emerge overnight. All children are different and develop at
their own pace. The conversations we have with children nurture their
development and learning. Our talk at home and in preschool settings is a
powerful tool in the development of young children.
5 Power Tools to Help Develop Your Skills in Expanding Language
Here are a few ideas for helping young children develop
Talk naturally in your authentic voice;
Tell stories, sing, read books, ask questions;
Sometimes just be silly with songs, books, and
When they point at a ball, expand on it and make
a sentence out of the word they used or object they pointed out; and
Add colors, prepositions or numbers of objects
in everyday language (i.e. “We are going to climb up 7 brown steps now”).
Numbers, prepositions, colors and words used will all become a natural part of
They are soaking it all in and learn so much from you. Your words are truly powerful! Model the language that you want them to use and you can create learning opportunities wherever you go or whatever you are doing with children. Enjoy them. They grow up too fast!