On a recent Wednesday morning, JCC Early Learning Center prekindergarten teacher Jeanette Fishman jubilantly danced to Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together” with a gaggle of feisty four-year-olds in the Pomegranate Room.
Moving to the music with her students is one of the things Fishman treasures about her job.
“I love to dance,” she said. “All the kids know it. They’re just wonderful.”
This is Fishman’s 10th year as a JCC educator. And from observing how naturally and effectively she conducts her class, one could easily assume that the 56-year-old Louisville native always knew she wanted to work with kids.
But Fishman didn’t start her early childhood education career until she was 46. The Atherton High School grad said she never really knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Before finding her calling, she tried an array of professions, from waitress to jewelry buyer to airplane parker.
“I worked at the airport for 10 years, marshaling the airplanes in and I trained everybody out there,” she said. “At most of my jobs I’ve played a teaching role.” That knack for guiding others has served Fishman and her students well, and is admired by her colleagues and supervisors.
“She is a phenomenal early childhood educator,” said JCC Early Learning Center Director Norma Cahen. “She guides them so gently. Her language is totally age appropriate, and she has fabulous creative ideas. She doesn’t do the work for her student. She lets them experiment. She lets them negotiate, she lets them think things through.” Cahen added that Fishman has the “rare gift” of being able to engage her students while expertly preparing them for the challenges of kindergarten.
So, how did a former airplane parker land a teaching job at the JCC?
Fishman’s new path started with a chat at the JCC. Ten years ago, she dropped her son, Daniel, off for a tae kwon do class and struck up a conversation with a woman who told Fishman she was about to start work in the JCC’s new baby room.
Fishman was immediately intrigued.
“It sounded like a fun thing to do,” Fishman recalled. “So I helped start the infant room and it kind of went from there.”
In her 10 years at the JCC, Fishman has explored every part of the pre-school. She spent time as a teaching assistant and has worked in every preschool classroom.
The JCC is her classroom as well. She complements her innate teaching talent with the skills needed to become a pro through observing her colleagues and constantly discussing new ideas and techniques with them, yearly enrichment classes and on the job training.
She starts every day with enthusiasm and eagerness to see and serve her students.
“I love mornings because I come in and I get to greet everyone individually and say good morning to the parents,” she said.
One of the most vital things Fishman has learned in her decade teaching at the JCC is how critical it is to resist a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching.
“We all learn differently, and we have to have patience to help kids. Just because we want to teach them one way doesn’t mean that’s the best way. If we’re asking them to do something a certain way and they’re not responding we have to figure out a way that works for them.”
Fishman’s history with the JCC has made her decade of dedicating herself to teaching here even sweeter.
“I came here as a kid, so I grew up here at the JCC. I went swimming here, went to camp here,” she said. “It’s like a big family. We all help each other out. And that’s what I like the most about being here. It makes me very proud to work here.”