BEST PRESCHOOL TEACHER - Suzanne Brooks, St. John's Preschool - She's been at it for 20 years, teaching the tykes at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral Preschool the things they need to know. And just what do the three- and four-year-olds in Suzanne Brooks's classes need to learn? "I want to help them learn how to be kind to one another, and how to get along in the big world," she says. "So many of the things they have to know, we have to give them a chance to do by themselves."
Instilling self-reliance in her little charges is important to Brooks, especially when it comes to resolving disputes. When toddlers tussle over toys, Brooks wants them to do some problem-solving on their own.
To reinforce those feelings of independence, says Brooks, "We have this little song where we 'try, try, try.' It's about how some things just take a little longer, but that the kids are capable and that things are worthwhile if they really try. Sometimes we gather as a group, and we ask them, 'What do you think would be a good thing to do in this situation? How can we figure this out?' " With the offended party, she says, "I encourage them to tell the other child how they feel. And I tell them, 'I'll go with you' to talk to the other child. But I don't take care of it for them. I try to say as little as possible, after giving them some tools to use. Because when a kid starts to think, 'I can take care of that,' that's a very powerful feeling."
Preschoolers at St. John's learn to act independently -- and they have obviously made an effort to reconnect with their earliest schoolroom experiences. "We have done ice skating lessons over the years, and so each January we gather [at the Riverfront Park skating rink] for reunions. Some come back every year. There's this one young man, he comes to the reunions, and he told me, 'Mrs. Brooks, I still sing that song to myself sometimes.' Now he's 18." Good teachers, the ones like Suzanne Brooks, can never tell where their influence ends.