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News from our Alums: Tommy Bell (PhD 2015)           

Submitted by Michael Neininger on June 1, 2017 - 1:56pm
Tommy Bell as Preschool Teacher

My One-Year as a Preschool Teacher


While writing my dissertation, I would have never imagined working as a preschool teacher; but, that has, indeed, turned out to be the case, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The experience has been invaluable, as I have developed an array of skills necessary for success in life – principally, the attributes of patience and flexibility! I have also gained a more thorough understanding of how people think, act, respond to others, resolve conflicts, and communicate their interests and intentions.


The ABC School in Bellevue is a German immersion school for children ages 2 to 5. It also offers other educational opportunities for high school students and adults desiring to gain an introduction to the German language. However, the school’s primary focus is on preschoolers, and it certainly offers an excellent service, for which the parents are willing to make a significant financial investment. It has been encouraging to see how the parents realize just how valuable and formative this time is for their children. They know that bilingual skills will offer their children not only an array of additional opportunities (whether they be educational or occupational), but also the intellectual foundation on which they will be capable of understanding and valuing ideas and perspectives from other cultures. They know, as well, that if their children are to become truly bilingual, they must learn and practice the respective languages at an early age. Gaining the ability to speak a second or third language with native fluency must begin early. Hence, I have found an incredible amount of purpose in the work I do on a daily basis. In all of our activities I speak only in German to the children, when playing, eating, engaging in art projects, singing, and instructing them on various topics – ranging from the seasons of the year to the animals found on a farm. What I have found remarkable is the ability the young children have in acquiring German; they soak up what they hear, and they are readily capable of reproducing it. Interestingly, unlike college students, who are frequently hesitant to speak in German for fear of making mistakes in front of their peers, preschoolers unabashedly employ the language, unconcerned (and, usually, unaware) about any vocabulary or grammar missteps. For them, speaking German is simply one of the means employed to fulfill their urgent needs; hence, the form isn’t always critical, or beautiful.


I have also appreciated working with preschoolers, because I have the sense that the work has benefits that go far beyond the language. A few months after I started working as a preschool teacher, I read an article in the Economist (October 29, 2016), which included the following: “Supporters of ECD [Early Childhood Development] add that its benefits go well beyond the children. Better-raised toddlers mean less need to cope with dysfunctional adults at public expense. The World Bank says every dollar spent on preschool education earns between $6 and $17 of public benefits, in the form of a healthier and more productive workforce with fewer wrongdoers” (53). It has been exciting to know that I have participated in this process of enhancing the public good, as I have been able to make a positive impact in the lives of young people, who will go on to make significant contributions in the workforce, as they become leaders in the society of our future. I have been able to contribute to their development as individuals, who will be capable of cultivating and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships by communicating their interests, understanding the needs of others, and knowing how to resolve their differences. And, what most excites me is that they will be able to do this in German, which will enable them to engage with others across cultures, as they participate in the spheres of education, business, industry, or politics. Communicating in a foreign language will, indeed, be of substantial benefit in a world that will be only more globally connected in 15 years, when they find themselves studying at universities across the nation and the globe. Perhaps one of them may even end up studying German at the UW; that would certainly be a rewarding outcome to a year that, for me, has already been a resounding succes

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