July 2020 Student Spotlight – Joy Ellis McLemore

In seven decades of living a charmed life, the best times I’ve known included children, my own and dozens of others.  Though near the top of my small-city class in eastern Texas, my greatest ambitions included a large family, say five or six children. Having adored my large family of dolls, I also dressed up cats, rabbits, and stuffed animals in order to play mother and teacher.  These two roles, though financially frustrating in the US, reap the greatest reward: shaping human beings toward building a better world.  Every hour spent in this endeavor also shapes a mother’s and a teacher’s soul.

A watershed period in my own life came with the birth of my older sister’s son when I was fifteen. As a self-centered adolescent, I had a new doll, a living, breathing, growing human.  Half a century later he’s still one of my best connections. Since our family had cattle ranches, I didn’t even mind his dirty diapers.  Gardening’s still fun; all that fertilizer just takes me back to the barn climbing on bales of hay.  Oh, the adventures David and I had!  Reading stories to him in funny, varied voices prepared me for reading stories to my own three children years later.   One day we were left alone at nap time, and I was left to shelter him in my arms on the couch.  I went to sleep too.  Awakening with him still safe in my arms let me know that being a mother topped my list of life’s priorities. A little time on the stage in our community didn’t hurt either. Part of my volunteer work included children’s theater, entertaining several thousand children a year.  The children took our glass beads for diamonds, believed me to be a real witch, thought I could spin straw into gold…children have the most wonderful capacity to believe.  Those of us who still have our little child within our hearts are lucky indeed.

I currently live in Columbus, OH and hold a doctorate (Ed.D.) from the University of Northern Colorado and came back to an early love, my own church’s  kindergarten, after a full career teaching literature at the university level. A fan of Maria Montessori’s approach to childhood learning when my own three offspring were young, I have greatly enjoyed the less-stressful but equally rewarding five years of teaching Spanish and soccer to preschoolers in recent years.  Reading stories, and telling them, to small children delights me.  I never know where I’m headed when starting out on an old classic (‘The Three Bears’ remain my favorite with those great voices) but can keep young audiences entertained with my variations.  At age 74, I have decided to retire again because of the COVID-19 pandemic and my grown children’s concern for my safety.

When all three of my preschoolers became eligible for a neat new Montessori school in town, I applied for my first real job and went to school with them three mornings a week.  That first year I decided that I was “called” to teach.  Therefore, I began a two-day a week commute to a university where I received my master’s. It took two summers of taking the children with me and living in an apartment, but we did it.  All four of us loved those summers.  From there our journeys took us to Colorado to ski and of course attend graduate school.  I loved graduate school.  In no particular hurry the doctorate happened, and I was launched into a college-teaching career. Three travel-study courses took me to Europe, French kindergartens, and much observing and picture-taking of children. Then the university decided that because of my having three children and degrees in literature, I should teach children’s literature.  A new world opened for me.  The books that I’ve read since then, including the new ones discovered in the past five years teaching preschoolers at my church’s school, have enriched my own life beyond belief.  Both Theodore Giesel (Dr Seuss) and CS Lewis have said, in different words, that anything worth reading to a five-year-old is still worth reading as an adult.  I agree.  Although there’s a lot of “trash” out there in the world, even in ‘kiddie lit’, there’s also ample treasure.  A critical educator can find the themes that we treasure  from the classics in children’s literature as well.  Before regular school years, young ones can encounter art appreciation, literary appreciation, VALUES that this troubled world needs to affirm again and again.  And the earlier the better.

St. Francis’ prayer is my favorite. Having had the privilege of studying Italian, I translated the prayer into my own favorite words, including both “channel” and “instrument.”  A teacher gets to be both– one passive, one active. Leaving first person in the objective case, we become God’s agents instead of our own.  At our best we can work small, but divine miracles with children.  Such magic surely comes from beyond ourselves.

I believe any of the seventeen courses that I’ve taken through CCEI would prove helpful to workers in child care.  A “greenie” tree-hugger ever since our Colorado days, I chose CCEI110B:  Outdoor Safety in the Early Childhood Setting and learned that even drawstring hoods can be dangerous.  Also, both classes on Eco-Friendly Child Care (ADM 100, 101) reinforced my belief that we must always remember safety first.  Our little ones’ curiosity and adventurous nature may delight us, but there’s danger even on the walls indoors and in the plants on the playground. We can afford no lapses in our vigilance.

Loving Math, I enjoyed CCEI430, realizing once more that concepts related to higher mathematics begin on playgrounds and even the floor with shapes, sorting, counting colors and more.  ADM 108 and 109 confirmed that some of us, while lacking administrative skill and interest, can be natural mentors.  I loved the idea of being a catalyst towards adults’ as well as children’s perpetual progress–without even having to give a grade! (Remember that I’ve taught legions of adults.  The hardest part is the grading.)  CUR 111 and pieces of other courses expanded my understanding of the need for not just accepting, but embracing, diversity in our classrooms, for all ages.  Having grown up in a small, sheltered town in eastern Texas I look back over the decades and wonder why we weren’t bored silly.  Everybody tried to be just alike it seemed to me. Believing that variety truly is the spice of life, I have loved the multicultural metropolis of Columbus, Ohio.

Loose Parts: Incorporating Found Objects and Open-Ended Materials into the Classroom is my favorite course taken with ChildCare Education Institute.  A good planet is hard to find, even harder to reach, so we’d all better get busier with our ecological interests.  In “Loose Parts” there appeared a pod shop full of loose parts–containers, lids, cloth, paper, bottles, popsicle sticks, lots of usable trash (and more)– that creative little ones could help organize on shelves, then use on rainy days.  Having their own little warehouse combined with grocery store (make believe) and arts/science museum appeals to the child in even this grandmother. Another of CCEI’s courses featured some delightful art work created from playground finds: leaves, limbs, sticks, mulch, inedible berries, bark, dirt. . . . Add shells, buttons, and pipe cleaners to the supplies and who knows what they could imagine?  Wouldn’t hurt teachers either, once initial inventory and organization are established in good boxes, take-out food containers and the like. Everybody at preschool could love rainy days, even the teachers!