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June 2001
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New York City
April 2002

Saying Good-bye to a Teacher Mid-Year
By Helen Frazier

In November, a little girl gave the head teacher in our preschool class a hug and said, “Your belly is fat. Have you been eating too much food, or do you have a big baby in there. Did you ever think about that?” It was time to tell the children that their teacher was in fact having a baby and that she was going to leave at the end of January.

Mid-year transitions are a common occurrence in early childhood classrooms, and it is important that they be carefully and sensitively managed. Young children develop deep attachments to their teachers, and it is difficult for them to understand when someone has to go away.

For many of the children in our class, understanding why our teacher was leaving meant that they had to learn where babies come from. When our teacher told the children, during circle time, that she was pregnant, everybody had something to say. The comments ranged from, “I came out of my mommy’s mouth!” to “I wish I was your baby.” We explained that when the time comes, she will push the baby out of her vagina. One child said, “I hope you don’t scream!”

After the children found out that our teacher had a baby in her belly, they became very interested in both babies and bellies. They stuck out their bellies, wore pillows under their clothes, pretended to give birth, and played baby and mommy games. This play helped to prepare them for saying good-bye to their teacher. In order to keep their excitement about the pregnancy from translating into anxiety about their teacher’s departure, we explained to them that she still had two months left at the Family Center. We said, “Hanukah is going to come, and Christmas is going to come, and it is going to get very cold before your teacher has to leave.” The children repeated this statement to themselves like a mantra. We also showed them the months on the calendar and crossed out the days as they passed. This practice also supported their calendar awareness and their math skills as they counted the remaining days.

A month before our teacher was due, a new teacher was gradually phased into the class. Roles and responsibilities that our head teacher had traditionally assumed were slowly transferred to other teachers in the room. By the time that she was ready to leave, the children were comfortable with the new classroom structure. We had a festive good-bye breakfast on our teacher’s last day.

After our teacher left, the children called her whenever they wanted to chat. The children also sent a tape recording to her on which they told her that they missed her and loved her. She sent them a tape recording back in turn, on which she said hello to each child individually. The other teachers in the class visited our teacher and took pictures of her with her new baby. We made these pictures into a book which we read at circle time. The children refer to this book throughout the day and particularly enjoy looking at it on their cots before nap. The children frequently remind one another that the new baby needs lots of taking care of, and that their teacher needs to stay at home in order to do that. We are looking forward to meeting the baby when he visits the class with his mother. This will occur when he is two months old, and all the children know exactly how to find that date on the calendar.

Helen Frazier is a preschool teacher at the Bank Street Family Center.


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