Laura de Medici-Bentley: Keep open mind, be flexible when teaching youths

Laura de Medici-Bentley

The other day, one of my former classroom parents told me, “You are so amazing with young kids — you must have always known you would teach them.”

A few years ago, though, I never saw myself teaching children under the age of 5. An interview changed everything for me.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was newly married, and we had just moved to Arlington. My associate’s degree made me eligible for a potential teaching assistant job. I had applied to several elementary schools in the area with no avail. I was getting ready to accept a lucrative position as a private nanny when I received an email from a preschool called Rosslyn Children’s Center. They wanted to interview me for a teaching position. It seemed too good to be true — a place that didn’t base my ability to teach on a number of academic credits.

I started by telling my interviewers a little about myself — my childhood, my hobbies, my traveling experiences. I talked about my experience as a kindergarten teaching assistant. The oldest children at the school were kindergarten aged, and I thought they were interviewing me for that classroom.

Suddenly, they surprised me with this question:

“So, what do you think a language and literacy lesson plan should look like for 3-year-olds?” This question absolutely floored me. I didn’t have much experience with 3-year-olds. This question was going to make me or break me.

As I tried not to appear nervous, my mind was racing. “Ok  … language and literacy for 3-year-olds … language and literacy for 3-year-olds …”

“You mean … how would I help to develop their reading abilities? Well, I would start by reading them a variety of books.”

My interviewers could tell I was nervous. I felt like I was in a hole, trying to dig my way out. They tried pulling me out by explaining that literacy materials weren’t only limited to books.

I fumbled more with the question, saying something about children’s magazines and newspapers.

I started to realize that this was a question that was designed to gauge my ability to “think outside of the box.”  Maybe they weren’t looking for a perfect answer. Just like their philosophy in the classroom, maybe it was the process, not the product, that mattered.

By the grace of God, a wave of confidence came over me. “Well, what if the children made their own books? They would be interested in reading those because they would truly be able to relate to it.”

Boom. My interview took a turn in a positive direction. I was no longer being asked questions — my interviewers and I were exchanging ideas. It had almost turned into a brainstorming session.

A few days later, I was offered a teaching position in the 3-year-old classroom.

I was nervous, since I was more experienced with kindergarten-aged children. I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to successfully teach 3-year-olds.

However, my new colleagues reassured me that they were more than confident in me. From my interview, they learned that I was willing to try several different solutions to one problem — a skill that is vital when teaching young children. By keeping an open mind and being flexible, teaching these young children became second nature.

Laura de Medici-Bentley, of Winchester Virginia, is a former early childhood educator who currently enjoys staying home with her [almost] 2-year-old daughter. She is an author of a personal blog, She can be reached at