Messy notes and hand-drawn pictures hang from the wall in Lynda MacQueen’s classroom at the Covenant Preschool and Child’s Day Out. Happy kids walk in, giving her a hug, a high five or a cheery “Hi!” This has been happening for 25 years; that’s how long Lynda has been teaching the 4’s class there. The remarkable thing about her tenure: “I think I can remember every kid I’ve taught, and I can remember something quirky about each one of them,” she said.
Lynda loves teaching four-year-olds. “The 4’s are so excited about everything you bring to them. If you tell them ‘We’re going to study worms today,’ the 4’s say, ‘Really? We’re gonna study worms!’ They are so enthusiastic.
“Every year, I think my class is really neat. Last year, I had kids that could read and had written books and could do math in their heads. This year, I have the sweetest, most empathetic class. There’s things that stand out about each class.”
But, 25 years?
“They keep me young, I suppose,” the native New Zealander said; her accent giving away her homeland.
“You can’t help but be impressed with her charming Kiwi accent,” said Christy Milam, a former preschool parent and Covenant’s former preschool director. “It’s so quaint and cool that this preschool teacher sounds so proper, and yet she is the most hands-on, tactile, experiential teacher in the entire preschool and loves nothing more than to bring all elements of the outdoor into the classroom. She believes that children learn best in nature.
“The kids giggle a lot,” Christy said. “They are amused by her accent and her sense of humor, although they may not always understand it.”
“I love her jokes,” said Emily McFarlane, a member of her current 4’s class. “She’s very funny. I like the way she talks, too. I love the homework. And the stickers she gives us, especially the puppies and kitties. And I love our placemats that we make. The fishy is the last one.” The thought of leaving Mrs. MacQueen’s class made Emily frown.
She’s awesome,” said Elizabeth Moore, parent to two former MacQueen students. “You know about the song Jason Roberts wrote for her, right?”
Uh, no! Seems Grammy-award-winner Jason Roberts, formerly from Asleep at the Wheel and now leading the Jason Roberts Band, wrote a song about Mrs. MacQueen’s brainy bears when his child was her student two years ago.
“I do have a song,” Lynda said, when asked, “but it hasn’t reached #1 on the charts yet!”
“I really like this preschool and the way the church backs up the preschool,” Lynda said. “Covenant is a very giving church. There are no issues about teachers being church members, and the church facilitates us very well.”
Lynda said she also likes the staff. “We have a really caring staff. We care about each other. We are very sharing. When someone has a good lesson, they are willing to share the information. Jean (Pravednikov, “Miss Jean” to the kids) and Dana (Stebler) who also work with the 4’s and transitional kinder classes are so supportive. We have each other’s backs and can go to each other for advice when we need it.”
Christy pointed out that Lynda leads the way with those characteristics. “She always wants to educate the rest of the staff; she is a mentor to the staff for best practices, and she really supports them. Some teachers want to hold onto their knowledge and only let their class experience new lessons. Mrs. MacQueen was all about sharing her knowledge so others could use it. She’s a great collaborator.”
Lynda said the support encompasses the administrative preschool staff as well. “We also have had caring, supportive directors. I feel like the church cares about the program as well. You couldn’t ask for a better work environment.”
Current Preschool Director Laura Hargrave’s comments prove the caring is multi-directional, “Lynda has been a joy to work with the last two years. She has spoiled me by giving me fresh flowers for my desk almost weekly!”
One requirement of the Covenant preschool is that parents help in their children’s classes once a month. “I like the co-oping,” Lynda said. “I get to know all the parents, and the parents get to learn different ways of doing things with their kids.”
Because the preschool is a cooperative program, it attracts parents who want to be around their children, Lynda said. “The parents like to see who their kids are playing with and watch some of the interesting things we are doing with the kids. This type of program definitely attracts a different clientele,” she said, adding that a lot of grandparents now come to co-op. “If both parents work, we see the grandparents. There’s more involvement from grandparents in this generation.”
Co-oping also is a reason why she hasn’t been tempted to teach the transitional kinder classes. The parents don’t co-op for that age.
What (Hasn’t) Changed
Though she’s been teaching at Covenant for a quarter-century, Lynda said the curriculum hasn’t changed “as much as you would think.” She explained: “The kids understand things from their point-of-view so we make sure we begin lessons there. As a teacher, you’re always relating the lessons to them; the lessons always start with the kids. When we learn about the alphabet, we always start with the letters in their names. They were all amazed one day because they found out we all live in Austin, Texas.”
Christy Milam provided a recent example. “Last week, I got off the elevator on the third floor. There was a lizard, so I went to get Mrs. MacQueen. While I stayed with her class, she grabbed a cup, got the lizard and showed it to every single child. She asked, ‘Do you think it will change colors? Do you think its tail will fall off?’ Then they took it to the playground when it was time to go outside.
“She uses everything in the world around the students to teach.”
Lynda truly loves watching her students learn and grow, and she takes pride in preparing them for kindergarten – socially, emotionally and academically,” Laura said. “She completely understands the four-year-old development and behavior.”
“Today’s kids sometimes seem more sophisticated,” Lynda remarked. “All the kids we get seem really smart. That might be our demographic,”
She also said that although kids today have a lot more electronics in their lives, that hasn’t changed the way they are in class. “Preschool is a social time. They want to play with friends. Kids learn through just playing, and that’s the way our whole preschool is structured. One of the reasons I’m still here is because this preschool knows how children learn.”
Lynda has always had a lot of kids with medical needs or allergies – from kids who carried multiple EpiPens to diabetics who needed an extra shot of insulin during the day. “One student’s allergy specialist recommended our preschool because we are a nut-free campus.”
“One year, I had a little girl who was diabetic, and I had to test her every morning, mid-morning, to make sure her blood sugar was right. The next year, the girl went to a private school and they kicked her out because it was too much work.”
Lynda has an education degree and taught in New Zealand for a few years before she had kids. (Her eldest daughter, Alice, is a post-doc at the University of Texas.) “I had Alice,” she said, “and a friend said that teaching preschool was a good way to meet people.”
Lynda is married to Phillip, whose post-doctoral work in astronomy brought the couple to Austin. The couple has three daughters: Alice, the eldest, who motivated Lynda to teach preschool, Jessie and Laurie.
It wasn’t long after the move that Lynda started teaching preschool at Riverbend, quickly making her way to Covenant. That was 25 years and hundreds of kids ago. And, remarkably, she can remember every student!
(pictures by Danielle Walker)