"Bye, Mommy. See ya later!" Justin waved cheerfully and turned toward his friend, Andy, who was emptying a box of blocks so the two of them could build.
Moments later Justin and Andy were chattering away about making a fort. A third child came over with soldiers, and they all got busy building, talking and imagining. I smiled and thought about how far Justin had come this year. Until a few months ago, the 3 1/2-year-old was unlikely to participate unless his mom stayed in the classroom. Working together patiently, she and I had gradually helped Justin become more independent. At the beginning of the school year, he had insisted that his mom be a part of his play. It took time before he was satisfied to have her sit on the sidelines. Weeks later, he would accept her leaving briefly. Now I think Justin is delighted with his own mastery of separating. Maybe everything turned out well because his mom and I could work together and we were both patient. But now the school year is ending. There will be a new teacher and classroom for Justin in the fall. This will be the teacher's first year teaching. I have not yet met her myself. I'm concerned that the change might cause Justin to lose the great gains he has made this year. Is there anything I can do to prevent that from happening?
The Parent's Story
Justin adores school now. At the end of the school day, he eagerly shows me his "pro-jets." Justin often chatters away on the ride home from school about some play episode or a field trip to the post office or firehouse. It took him a long time to get to this point. It was early spring before I could routinely leave the classroom, assured that Justin was content to be there without me. Thanks to his wonderfully patient and understanding teacher, we were able to let Justin set the pace for discovering the pleasure of independence. I nearly fainted the first time he said, "You can go now, Mommy." I think he knows he accomplished something really important, and that it went according to his own timing. But now that everything is fine, the school year is ending. That may mean facing similar issues in the fall with a teacher who is new to the school as well as to Justin. I must admit I am feeling uneasy. If only there were some guaranteed way to carry this year's growth over into the next.
Dr. Brodkin's Assessment
We can all learn a lot from Justin's story. First and foremost is the fact that a trusting collaboration of teacher and parent can go a long way toward helping a young child to adapt. And we learn that patience pays off. What is more, it is wise to encourage each child while giving him room to set his own pace. The teacher and parent can be assured that Justin's achievement can be carried over and repeated with a new teacher.
What the Teacher Can Do
Since this teacher-and-parent collaboration has been so successful, there is every reason to believe that it can happen again with a new teacher. The teacher should consult her records and confer with Justin's parents. Together they can recall critical points in the year when they decided either it was time to attempt the next step or to be patient and wait for signals from Justin. Then they can come up with a blueprint for what works.
Justin's current teacher can request a meeting with the new teacher in order to share what she has learned about helping Justin become comfortable in a new setting. In addition enlisting the support of the director will go a long way toward implementing this plan.
What the Parent Can Do
If the parent makes her concerns known to the teacher and the director, there will be greater impetus to prepare the new teacher. The parent knows her child better than anyone else does. She even knows a great deal about the way Justin approaches situations in school, since she observed him there for quite awhile. The parent should make an effort to talk with the new teacher before the new school year begins and, if possible, to introduce Justin to the new teacher. It is unlikely that Justin will take as long to adapt as he did this year. He has grown through this good experience, and he will be a year older. So the parent should expect it all to work out, especially in a program that is obviously so sensitive to children's individual needs.