Beloved kindergarten teacher Susan Flynn reflects on 40+ years in the classroom
'We can either fill each other's buckets with love or we can actually take away love'
After more than 40 years, Wednesday is Susan Flynn's last day in the classroom — the passionate kindergarten teacher at West Kent Elementary School in Charlottetown has been instructing young children since the early 1970s.
"It's a fascinating job, I have absolutely loved it," Flynn said. "It's kept me young."
"Miss Flynn," as her students know her, creates a warm and nurturing environment for her students, using soft classical music to set a calm tone, but also engaging students with lots of activity centres.
Students can choose to sit in the book corner and read quietly, to build with blocks or Lego, colour and draw at an art station or play house in a child-size kitchen stocked with squishy play food and baby dolls.
"We term it making it 'purposeful play' and that's the job of a teacher — to make something exciting and interesting and to always be changing it so that the children engage in it and have a good time," Flynn said.
'Filling people's buckets'
For Flynn, kindergarten is about more than just learning their ABCs and 123s — it's about building empathy and understanding.
Flynn teaches her students how to process their emotions and how to be a good friend — she calls it 'filling people's buckets.'
"We all have an invisible bucket that we are born with and we can either fill each other's buckets with love or we can actually take away love that someone may have in their heart by saying things that might actually be hurtful or not including people or saying things that may hurt someone's feelings," she said.
"We talk about saying things and doing things, random acts of kindness, so you can build people up. "
'When it's time to listen'
Flynn said kindergarten is one of the biggest years of growth for a child and the lessons they learn during this important year form the building blocks of the people they will become.
"To have respect for themselves, number one, and to have respect for other people — and to learn and to be able to know when it's time to talk and when it's time to listen," are two of her core teachings.
Children this young can clue in to subtle cues if you teach them to look, she said.
"And also to look at body language, that we speak through our bodies and so they can read people. I'm always talking about being detectives so they can read people and see — am I too close to that person? Does that person look unhappy? So can I go and help them?"
'Best teacher ever'
Her young students seem to be getting the message.
Avery Payne and Grace Larter proudly wrote the final morning message of the year and reflected on Miss Flynn and all she taught them this year.
"She's been the best teacher ever and she's been working hard for a lot of years," said Avery Payne.
"We got to play a lot and we get to learn a lot. She taught us how to share and how to take turns and how to listen and how to write," added Grace Larter.
Learning how to play safely was a lesson that stuck with Kaelyn Wiseman.
"It means to watch where you're going and be careful of your body so you don't hurt others. Things [in the classroom] are very fun and learning is fun and I love learning," she said.
Vic Deyle and Max Honsberger, both six years old, say they'll miss their teacher — who's already promised to visit them next year.
"We learned how to write, we learned each other's names, we learned to be quiet and listen, we learned how to make new friends," said Vic.
The recipe for making new friends is simple, Vic said.
"To play with them for a long time and then you are used to them and then you like them and then you'll be friends with each other."
'Most important things in life'
Flynn said she believes the most important lesson to learn in kindergarten is caring for others — academic success will come, if students learn this first.
"The most important things in life is loving people and having compassion and acceptance of people who are different from us," she said. "And so we do a lot of talking about that, trying to broaden their understanding."
"I think it's all about how we can think of our fellow human beings and how we can make this more of a caring and loving world. And if we can have those skills then we can move on to other areas."
And what has Susan Flynn learned in her five decades teaching kindergarten?
"That I love to play. That I value children, that I honour where they come from and what they know. That I really enjoy the enthusiasm and the thriving that goes on in kindergarten and that really fills my bucket in a big way."
Cleaning out her classroom for the final time, Flynn has discovered some work made by former students and started giving it back to the kids, who are now in older grades.
"See, everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten," she told them.