By Zahnell Pinnock, CPCC Journalism Student
Kristen Monteith sometimes surprises her students when she stands on a desk during lectures. With a light-hearted expression, she encourages her class to understand children’s emotions by becoming active listeners.
Sometimes, children have a difficult time expressing their feelings, Monteith said. If they have an unintentional outburst at an adult, that person needs to figure out what is going on so he or she can uncover the child’s true feelings, she explained.
Monteith, 44, has been a CPCC Early Childhood Education instructor for 19 years. She teaches her classes online and in-person at four of CPCC’s campuses.
At Harris Campus, her office contains piles of preschool books and a large white bookcase propped against the wall. One of her favorite children’s book by Eric Carle, “The Secret Birthday Message,” juts out from the second shelf.
She is a big fan of Carle’s children’s literature books, Lisa Godwin, Early Childhood Education instructor, said. Other children’s authors that she appreciates are Mem Fox and Laura Numeroff, who wrote the book, “If You Give A Mouse a Cookie,” Godwin added.
Monteith said she enjoys looking at their illustrations and using them to teach from. She explains how children also relate and learn well from stories within children literature.
Growing up in an athletic household, she spent most of her middle and high school life playing volleyball, softball and track. While playing sports, Monteith started to examine majors and thought of her late mother’s career as an early childhood educator.
“My mom was a nursery school teacher. So, she had an associate degree in early childhood education,” Monteith said. She described how years of babysitting and taking a high school Child Developmental course through Syracuse University also piqued her interest in the field.
Monteith had her first teaching experience at Davidson Community College. While she was a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, her college mentor assigned her to teach a course. It was crazy to be teaching college students at that age, but it went well, she said.
Monteith then taught two child and family development courses at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and served childcare centers across North Carolina. She also worked at the Mecklenburg County Children’s Developmental Services Agency in Charlotte, helping babies and toddlers with disabilities or special health care needs.
It was great to work as a service coordinator and play therapist at the agency, Monteith said. She found it enjoyable because her training involved child development in special education.
“I think she has a real passion for service and children with exceptionalities,” Godwin said. She genuinely values acceptance of children, especially those who are different, she explained.
After working at CDSA for 8-and-a-half months, Monteith received a full-time position at CPCC. Ever since, she has formed relationships with students, Godwin and her other colleagues.
Godwin remembers attending a conference with Monteith in Atlantic Beach, N.C. It was a great time to get to know Monteith’s witty, funny and wicked sense of humor after spending hours walking along the beach together, she said.
Their friendship strengthened when Godwin had breast cancer several years ago. Monteith was very supportive since she lost her mother to breast cancer, and is a cancer survivor herself, Godwin explained.
She is a strong woman who has undergone some challenging experiences, Godwin added. Sometimes, she needs to understand that it is all right to not be brave and tough all the time, she said.
As an instructor, Monteith is innovative inside the classroom. Instead of teaching a lot of lectures, she creates hands-on-experience activities so students can learn more about early childhood, Godwin explained.
In the child guidance course, she had students perform a skit about what teachers should do when two children fight over a tricycle, Godwin described. So, she brought a tricycle for them to use in their performance, she said.
There are also service events that Monteith organizes for students, Godwin added. One service night, she had her class that is part of an interdisciplinary certificate in early childhood, work with the Occupational Therapy Assistant and Physical Therapy Developmental Disabilities Technologies programs.
Godwin explained students from both programs do not focus on children, while Early Childhood Education does not have experience with exceptionalities. So, Monteith helped her class and both programs gain experience from each other by organizing an information session, she said.
“I think anytime that you’re doing hands-on work, you’re preparing to work with young children because that’s how children learn best,” Monteith said. Students have to gain that experience so they can model and implement it, she explained.
Monteith said, “The difference I’d like to see in our community is teachers using developmentally appropriate practices on a regular basis and respecting children becomes a norm.”