Spotlight on: Head Start Teacher Gail Litman
By Michelle Melton
Children and families in Head Start have a big job. They need to get ready for Kindergarten.
Our 56 Head Start teachers have a big job, too.
They provide customized learning experiences that enhance the intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development of at-risk young children, and they assist parents in helping their children grow and learn.
Head Start teacher Gail Litman loves her big job!
“I am passionate about teaching and about the difference teachers can make in the lives of our children,” says Litman, who knows the importance of building a solid foundation as early as possible.
“Kindergarten isn’t what it used to be. There are no more naps, centers, or personalized learning plans. Those little ones are reading, writing, and taking spelling tests in the first quarter of school. There is little hope for success if a Kindergarten child has not been exposed to the alphabet or to recognizing their own name in print.”
As a teacher at the Kernersville Center, Litman focuses on understanding the needs of her students and developing learning experiences that ensure every child in the classroom is able to achieve his or her highest potential.
“First and foremost, I frequently tell them how incredible they are and that they can do anything they put their minds to. I listen to them to find out their interests and to understand what frightens them about learning. I make sure that each child receives attention,” she says.
She also focuses on intentionality, something she learned while earning her education degree in Human Development (with a concentration in Birth through Kindergarten) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
“Teachers need to think about what they are teaching and ask, ‘Is this meaningful?’ ‘What are the children learning through this activity?’ Everything we plan needs to have a developmental purpose. Head Start teachers are not babysitters.”
Litman knew she wanted to work with children early on. Long before she became a mother she lived in New Jersey and worked as a nanny to four children. She cherished her experience with the children and carried the idea of working in a child-focused field through many years in other unrelated jobs. When her own children came along, she moved to North Carolina and traded the long hours and late nights of the food and beverage industry for night classes at Guilford Tech and then UNCG. And, the rest, she says, is history.
After five years of teaching, all of which has been with Head Start, Litman remains energized by her students and by the possibilities she is able to open up to them through the Head Start program.
“I believe that hundreds of children in our county would struggle when they attend Kindergarten and that their care givers would not have access to resources that help make them stronger,” she says, pointing out services such as access to a computer lab to search and apply for job opportunities or “just a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear!”
As a single parent of two boys, now 18 and 12 years old, Litman knows first-hand the value of supportive resources that enabled her to earn a degree and realize her dream to work professionally in early childhood education.
“I try to convince caregivers of this all the time. I want them to realize how important the privilege of Head Start is to their child and to them, that we are more than a day care and that there is so much opportunity out there for the children and for them.”
Like “Elphaba,” the main character in her favorite book, Wicked, The Life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” Litman is driven by determination to improve herself and the lives of the people around her. She constantly thinks about the next meaningful lesson for her students, how to collaborate with other Head Start teachers, and how the teachers can contribute more to the overall success of the program. Some of her ideas include teacher input on newsletters, teacher involvement in the school improvement plan, serving on a committee, and opportunities for teachers to provide leadership and mentoring.
“The more I can grow as a teacher, the more I can help our children and their caregivers become the best they can be,” she says.