Potter teaches students about teaching children

May 05, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

Editor's note: This is the eighth in a monthly series highlighting excellent educators in Washington County high schools. Next month: Williamsport High School.

If teacher Nicole Potter slithers like a snake on the floor, she hopes her students will feel comfortable enough to do the same.

"No student is meant to feel like if they're not Olivia Newton-John then they can't be successful," said Potter, who has been teaching Early Childhood Professions at Washington County Technical High School for the past 10 years.

Different students with different personalities do different things, she said, but between her students and the children they teach, "light-bulbs flash all over the place."


"I've always had child chaos. It's just what comes naturally to me," she said.

Potter, mother to an 8-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old, teaches about 27 teenagers daily how to supervise 11 children, all younger than 5.

"Am I tired at the end of the day? You better believe it," she said. "But am I just as exuberant the next day as I was the day before? Absolutely."

Potter, 33, said she always knew she wanted to work with children. After graduating from both Hagerstown Community College and Shepherd College with degrees in childhood-related areas, Potter is nine credits away from her master's degree in education from Frostburg State University.

"I was really excited about teaching teachers to be teachers," she said.

Early childhood education is so important, she said, which means her students, who, along with having compassion and patience, have to work hard to understand and develop daily lesson plans.

They also have to learn to leave their teenage problems at the door, she said. Winnie the Pooh's honey pot, a bucket taped to her classroom door, is placed there so students and children alike can dump their bad feelings before they enter the classroom.

The students wear uniform smocks, which is a big commitment for normally fashion-obsessed teenagers, she said.

"You eat lunch with the children because that's just what you do, and you better like it because you'll be immersed in it all day," she said.

Junior students study the theories of early childhood education: What can a teacher expect from a 22-month-old, a 3-year-old or a 5-year-old? Senior students work at "My Special Place," the school's in-house child-care center, alongside the children, developing lessons and planning field trips. They have the opportunity to serve as interns at Bright Horizons Family Solutions, through Citicorp, and Surrey Child Care Center, through Antietam Health Center, which gives them more exposure to infants and toddlers, she said.

Her students are with her for six hours a day, but often stay after school to work on lesson plans, Potter said.

"Because they have that attitude, it makes it easier as a teacher," she said.

Since the Technical High School, which pulls students in their junior and senior years from their home high schools to study specific trades, is an elective school, Potter said she rarely has a student who has trouble keeping focused on studies.

She said about 85 percent of her students go on to some form of higher education and are employed as child-care workers.

"It's interesting that students that come in here think, 'I've baby-sat before and I've worked with kids before,' but then they get in here and they think, 'Wow! I never knew that,'" she said.

High school students tend to underestimate the need for creative and innovative ways to manage a group of children.

She said she often can tell when one of her students realizes he's made a bad decision while teaching a lesson.

The most common culprit, calling all the children at once to a particular activity, usually causes a stampede and brings a flush of red to the face of a student teacher.

The appropriate transition would be to sing a song or tell the children to join an activity based on the colors of their clothes, she said.

She often doesn't have to say anything to a student when a bad decision is made. The student will call the children back to their former activity and start over.

"A friend can tell you that that wasn't a good idea," she said. "But when a child responds to your choice, it makes a significant impact."

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