Faculty Profile: Hannah Lawton, PreK 2 Head Teacher
January 31, 2020
Tell us about your path to Léman.
I studied early childhood special education at the University of Vermont, and then I earned my masters in early childhood education at Hunter College.
I worked in the Pre-K 3 classroom at the Mandell School for a few years and then in the PreK 2 classroom. I ended up falling in love with working with PreK 2 students and I felt like I found my niche there. Some other colleagues from Mandell moved to Léman and I'd heard wonderful things about the school and how happy my colleagues were here. So, I started working at Léman three years ago.
What drew you to teaching early childhood and 2-year-olds in particular?
I've known for a long time that I wanted to be a teacher. During my senior year in high school, I had an internship at the elementary school that I attended. My mom was a teaching assistant at the school and the teachers there were part of my support system. That school was a big part of my community growing up. Then when I went to college, I started in elementary education. When I had the opportunity to work with younger children, I realized how much I loved it.
Why do you think it's beneficial for 2-year-olds to be in school at this age versus being at home or being in private daycare?
Young children benefit so much from language. So, when they're constantly surrounded by those conversations by teachers who can carefully craft questions to cause them to think and propel information forward and to challenge them to think about information in new ways. Being in a classroom offers a different sort of community that you wouldn't be able to find otherwise. One of the biggest things that we do in our classroom is we are building social skills and we're helping children to realize that they're part of this community and what they do affects everybody else. So, they need to take care of their classroom materials.
The other day, a child stepped on a book and the book ripped which started a conversation in our classroom about how we take care of classroom materials. Another big part of being in a classroom community is our morning meeting where we all must learn how to take turns and raise our hand and we have something to say but also listening to what the teacher's instructions are. Sometimes the children don't have an opportunity to raise their hands because it's time for them to be listening and not playing with their friends.
Children this young benefit from having that routine so that by the time they get to PreK 3 and PreK 4, they know how to sit for circle, raise their hand and share their toys. In the classroom, they develop those social skills that they're going to need to build their academic skills down the road. If you don't have strong social skills, then your academic skills won't be able to flourish.
What milestones do you see children reaching from the beginning of the year until the end of the year?
Every child is different, and every child comes in with a different set of skills and areas of strength, but also their areas that they need to work on. Right now, we're getting ready for conferences and I’m thinking about, “where was the child at the beginning of the year? What do we know about them now and where we want them to be?” For some children, it's this child's is a real leader in the classroom but we also want them to learn how to include other children's ideas in their pretend play, or they might have wonderful language abilities, but they're a lot more comfortable talking with an adult than with another peer. So, we encourage them to share a story or to show off a piece of artwork to their classmates.
What do you like about teaching at Léman in particular?
I love teaching at Léman because I love the school's philosophy. I was blown away during my first year and how the entire school was focusing on inclusion and diversity. Those are such important values to be teaching young children as early as possible. I love the people that I work with and they inspire me, and they teach me, and they keep me motivated. And I think we have wonderful families and amazing kids.
What is your educational philosophy?
I admire the Reggio approach and I've taken little bits and pieces to build my educational philosophy. The Reggio philosophy is inquiry-based. Children start with a question and then that drives the curriculum. It’s focused on what their interests are. It's about respecting the child and listening to their voice. But what I think is also important and what I can see works from all my years of experience is also having a strong standards-based curriculum that is broad enough to meet the needs of all children. But where teachers and parents can look and say, “this child has really strong, expressive language but according to these benchmarks, we also really need to work on their ability to follow multi-step step instructions.” Having some sort of organization is important in the classroom.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love to explore outside and get out of the city and go for hikes with my husband and my dog, as well as cooking and trying out new recipes. And of course, I love to read. I'm always reading a book. There is always a book in my backpack and on my bedside table. Right now, I’m reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.