When studying to become an early childhood educator, I always remember a lecturer stressing the importance of maintaining a professional distance from becoming too close to the children you teach. It was unprofessional to develop strong feelings for children. I always struggled with this as I am a feelings person. I often asked myself “is it wrong to love the children you teach?” I get close to people I share my time with, children included.

Upon becoming a qualified teacher, I did indeed become close to many children. It is hard not to genuinely care for the children you spend more time with than you spend with your own family.

There was one child who I will never, ever forget. She reminded me of a little wild animal, who had been tamed. She was the sweetest, most beautiful child. She made you feel special that she allowed you to be close to her. She made you feel special that she cared for you. She loved rainbows, and she loved running and dancing. She could light up any room she bounded into. But at times, her inner wild animal would come out. She wanted to be a zebra when she grew up. When other children explained she could not be a zebra because she was a person, she would stamp her feet, frown the deepest of frowns and growl that she was going to be a zebra. Nobody dared to disagree.


When she loved, she loved with all of her heart. She would grab me in the tightest hug, her teeth would grind and she would shake. But when she was angry, her feelings would come out with such intensity. This beautiful wild animal would toss her head, stomp her feet and fiercely let her anger be known. I loved her. I loved her passion for life. I loved the way she let her feelings be known. I loved that she didn’t conform. I loved her for being her and the special moments when she loved me right back. I loved her wild ways.

Just as suddenly as she won my heart, she broke my heart. She passed away suddenly and I was devastated.


I was in shock, I missed her and I loved her more than ever before. How did I let myself get too close to her? Why did I let myself love her so much? Why did I feel this way when I was supposedly a professional educator? Teaching wasn’t supposed to feel this way!

I beat myself up for being unprofessional. Of course we were all deeply saddened at her passing, but I felt that if I had been a professional educator, I would never have let myself have such strong feelings for her.

My little zebra friend left a huge hole in my life.

Her funeral was surreal, I kept expecting her to come galloping in and shout “I’m here” with the same enthusiasm she always had. I told her mother I loved her. She thanked me.


In the weeks following, I seriously considered quitting teaching for ever. I really beat myself up for allowing myself to fall into the “trap” of loving a child I taught. I had failed in my own eyes.


Her mother starting asking lot’s of questions about her precious child. She wanted to know the smallest things. I shared everything. She asked me to write a book of sorts, before I forgot all the little things about her daughter that she never experienced. I wrote everything, absolutely everything. A no holds barred account of everything I ever knew about her little girl. The things you may not always tell a parent about their child for fear of upsetting them. Basically, the good, the bad and the ugly. I wrote it all.

When I had completed this “book” I was nervous. I worried I had forgotten things that mattered. This book was the most important thing I had ever written in my life! I worried her parents wouldn’t like my account of their little girls life. I was wrong. They loved it.

Her mother shared that this book was filled with memories she had missed out on. It is hard as a working parent to leave your child with others, and to know that her precious child was genuinely loved by others in her absence meant the world to her. To know that the little things she loved about her daughter, were the same things I loved about her daughter, meant so much to her. To know that I loved the intensity of her anger, as much as I loved her gleeful laughter was so important.

I don’t think anything will ever heal the heart of a parent who has lost a child, but to know their daughter was loved and understood by those who she spent her day with must certainly make a parent feel the tiniest ray of sunshine in their darkest of days.

So is it wrong to love the children you teach? I would have to say no. Love those children with all of your heart. And then love them some more!



Posted by Sonya McIntyre

Sonya was born in Lower Hutt and went to Rata Street Kindergarten and Petone Kindergarten. A qualified ECE, she studied at Victoria University in Wellington and has worked with home-based educators, in community-based childcare and in kindergarten. With childhood memories of reading books and writing stories, combined with her passion for all things social media, Sonya segued into her role with us at Storypark as social media manager.

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  1. Very nice. I m the principal of school. I love children. They are so inocent. They have wild imaginations.There are some children who touch your heart. I don’t think it’s wrong to love the children you reach. This happens to me many times.


  2. She was a free spirit and was not long in this world she is now galloping in those wde open plain. We are human we have a great capacity to love we can just turn it of should a child come to preschool for their early years and spend a day not feeling loved I can’t see how this is part of our early learning practised we know at the end of the day they go home to the loving families but for those hours they are in our care we support their development and learning about feelings is apart of their development love is shared when careing for a child


  3. I’m trying reply through my tears, but tears of happiness and relief. I am an early childhood teacher who works in a nursery full of precious infants and toddlers that I can genuinely say I love – a lot! You are so right, I spend more time with some of them than my own children, and if I had to I would save them from harm as if they were my own. I am not afraid to hug them, kiss them and delight in them as their own parent would. It is so liberating to say I am a trained, experienced teacher and I love ‘my babies’. Thank you for sharing.


  4. Ovidia Fasciani June 20, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    What a beautiful blog to read. I, myself have found myself in the same situation and also had a lecturer say the same thing. I see so much distance between educators and children that so much is being missed out on. I love all the children I work with as if they are my own and what they give in return both emotionally and developmentally is beyond what words can say. You are an inspiration to all teachers and a shining star is always sparkling on you. Ovidia


    1. My name is Tacey and I work for Head Start. I feel very blessed to be there. On the first day of school, I have the expectation of loving each and every child. I don’t think I could teach very well without loving all of them. No matter if the behavior is quite challenging, that teacher can learn to love something about that child. It just takes alittle more time, which is no biggie. (Of course, I am out of teaching for the summer,not only does it feel great, but also I have the most precious gift of time!).The children will also feel that love, and begin loving to learn!


  5. Wow! Thank you for sharing your story. I have struggled with loving the children I teach. It really is almost impossible to not build a relationship with the students that you nurture. The school teachers who truly love you are the ones you remember once you have grown up.


  6. I always stress to my kids that we are a family in our classroom. We grow to love, accept, and respect each other’s individual personalities and discover each other’s unique strengths and weaknesses. An early childhood educator cannot be an effective teacher without loving children and loving the job. Building a caring relationship that encourages young children to grow into caring adults takes pure joy, dedication and plenty of love.


  7. L Baranda Larin June 21, 2016 at 3:39 am

    A teacher is generally the 1st person, outside of the family, a child has an emotional attachment to. Thus it’s important for a teacher to foster a loving bond with children, so that a foundation for learning is established, in fact I believe it is key.


  8. Children know when we love them. Being loved allows the nervous system to toward rest. A wound up child cannot learn. When the child is safe and loved, teachers have success!


  9. It is not wrong to love children. It’s human nature that when we spend more time with someone, it’s develop a special bounding and relationship. We can’t stop to do this. Don’t think to quit the this profession because children need someone who love them and care for them. And you have this quality.


  10. Richard Seitz June 21, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    As long as you love them all, even the wildest, love them. When/if you find the one(s) that you don’t love, can’t love, then you need to be “professional” to all of them. Like what you say to the kid sneaking candy in, Do you have enough for everyone?


  11. This was a very touching article. I teach piano on a one to one basis and I grow to love all of my pupils. I had the experience of teaching one of the most beautiful children I ever came into contact. I went into her home for several years. A number of years later I was told that she was killed in a car crash. Although I hadn’t seen her for several years, it still saddened me. I would rather have the sorrow than not have the memories.


  12. Matilda Kleinsasser June 22, 2016 at 1:15 am

    To truly do your work and give your all how can you not love the children in your care.Thank for sharing this beautiful story and I say blessed are the children who receive your love.


  13. This is a very touching article. In our profession we are dealing with humans, humanity is a most to make it work. I work in a high need school, and some of my kids need to feel loved, even when it only comes from us. The world is sad place, when a child comes to our schools, they should feel secure and love. We provide a safe haven for them. Thank you so much for sharing this, 🙂


  14. Thank you for sharing, a beautiful article! I teach adults and I love all my students. I think it’s so important for teachers to be caring and nurturing students irrespective of how young or old they maybe. We should love them faults and all. The world we live in, is turning hard and cruel so love is something we can give unconditionally to impact the lives of our students and for them to know that the world isn’t all that bad.


  15. As a male in childcare for 15 years, there is the same love for children from either males or female. I hesitate to let a child kissing me on the check as of the opinions of many people an yet its ok for a female to kiss a child? People need to look at all the problems that have happened in childcare, from locking children in a centre to abusing children in a rough way! before judging a male.
    I feel males are restricted to what they can do and low pay, this is the reason why they want work in childcare. Children need males in childcare as they need both sexes to promote an Identity, I am gay an yet I feel children have a preference on what sex they will bond to for comfort when not at home. I have a lot of children that have a bond with dad and mothers have informed me of this and have viewed over the years they have one reaction to Dad and another to Mum


  16. What a beautiful heartfelt story. It is hard not to love the children we teach, especially if we have them for two years. We are their educators, teachers and carers of course we should love them for who they are, quirks and all.


  17. What a wonderful and insightful article. Of course, would have preferred that no one involved had to bear such sadness. It was poignant and illustrates the dilemmas of teaching we all undergo as professional educators.

    There is no such thing as the perfect ‘student’, much less the ‘perfect’ teacher.

    Teaching like every other endeavour is enormously complex because of the human element.
    It is further complicated by the fact that we are supposed to be judge, jury and executioner. That is even if our entire class misbehaved, theoretically each student involved would get a different response because they misbehaved due to a different reason.

    (Practically of course you’d address the whole group and then only follow up with the ones that needed extra reinforcement).

    The lecturer’s truism about not loving your children and maintaining a professional distance, like everything else contains a kernel of truth in it. But anything taken to an extreme does more harm than good.

    We do need to be mindful of our emotions certainly and ensure our own preferences don’t warp the children we teach.

    We have all seen or heard of well intentioned teachers in our careers (whether consciously or not) have favorites in their classes. Children can tell what your feelings are.

    Our own lives as educators were shaped by teachers that inspired us and we certainly remember the ones that cared.

    (More teachers teach because they were inspired by their teachers than any other profession. Think it was a study done in 1998?)

    A prominent ECE book in the last decade revealed even a seasoned award winning educator admitted she made a mistake with her teaching philosophy.

    She quite nobly committed extra time and effort to the kids that struggle in her class. The gifted that struggled with boredom and those that needed extra help.
    One year she noted she got a letter from one of her students asking for love because

    “you spend a lot of time with those that are smart and those that aren’t. But what about the rest of us?”
    She admitted she erred and now makes time for everyone.
    We all err and all make mistakes. We also have different ways to reach our idealized classroom.
    What never differs though is our struggle to shoot for the moon in the face of a generally apathetic public.
    Teach on!


  18. Shirlanda Mitchell June 23, 2016 at 1:06 am

    I love working with children. I care deeply for all my students but sometimes there is one that captures your attention a little bit more and pull on your heart strings as if they were your own. I’ve learned that’s the life of a teacher and I love it.


  19. When I was working as an early childhood director one of the things that I told the teachers that I hired is: you’re going to spend 40 hours a week in the classroom. If you love children, I can teach you how to do this job and love it. Uf you don’t love children; I can guarantee you’ll never love this job.


  20. Love the children so they will know it. Love is a very powerful force that builds relationship and lets the other party know that you care. Try turning up to teach without love and things will feel strangely distant. I recall being warned of keeping a safe distance or not being too involved in the children’s life more so to safe guard my private time. Can you imagine being at each child’s birthday party on the weekends? Not showing favouritism in the class is another as the children will pick up the vibes very quickly. Otherwise, love the little people deeply from your heart, the rewards are beyond your teaching influence. Thanks for sharing!


  21. To teach is to touch a life forever , So I always touch it with love.


  22. Thank you for being brave and sharing.
    Please see the work (Professional Love) of UK based Dr. Jools Page…



  23. I learned the lesson that opening your heart is OK before I started to teach. I worked in Spiritual Support Services at a children’s hospital where I saw experienced doctors and nurses who would cry with families at their hardest times or just take a breath and do hard work that needed to be done. I realized that the grief of a family was not my grief but that I can have my own kind of love for other people’s kids and it is important to the child. We all belong to each other.


  24. Thank you for sharing your story of a precious relationship you developed with your dear little friend…how difficult it was to not feel your heart ache as I kept reading my eyes filled with heart felt tears…And what an enormous gift you have given her parents…the book you produced for them is sooooo meaningful and would be so very comforting for them in their time of bereavement…I am sure it was helpful to you also did you keep a copy for your self?


  25. Thank you for sharing your story of a precious relationship you developed with your dear little friend…how difficult it was to not feel your heart ache as I kept reading my eyes filled with heart felt tears…And what an enormous gift you have given her parents…the book you produced for them is sooooo meaningful and would be so very comforting for them in their time of bereavement…I am sure it was helpful to you also in your grieving …did you keep a copy for your self?


  26. Marilyn McKeating July 2, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    I too had tears in my eyes reading your blog. What a powerful testimony from I believe dedicated teacher. I love the children I teach and in fact really miss them when on holiday. Like a previous comment I believe if children have those strong connections they feel safe in the environment allowing them the freedom to learn and explore freely knowing they are safe and someone is looking out for them in their parents absence. What a beautiful tribute you were able to give the parents in their deepest hour. Let’s all love the children we teach and make a difference.


  27. Thank you fo sharing this special story Sonya x I feel so blessed that my daughter gets to spend time with such wonderful kindy teachers who are so wise and patient. Most importantly though I know that they genuinely care about her. This love and caring are the important basis on which they have built very special bonds. I’m in no doubt that these relationships hugely shape the person my daughter will become. Please keep loving away!


  28. What a sad but beautiful story. It is very true you do get attached to the children you spend every day with. I love the little things that each individual child shares. It could be a reaction a song even an expression some of the best things can be the smallest. There is one that comes to mind they don’t need to be comforted at nap time just to hang on to their little hand it’s just the little things that make my day. How can you not feel you spend every minute with these little souls.


  29. Nicholas Wilson July 12, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Im a 6 former who volunteers at a school every week. Every week this one girl would stumble over to me with such joy and hug me. She couldnt talk but she could make noises. Today she said her first word. It was my name. I was so happy. At the end of the day the teacger said it was her last day at the school. I stepped outside, keeled over and cried. All day and im still crying now. I know how you feel too


  30. My darling, there is so little love in the world. Please love all you can with all your heart. You never know who needs it most.


  31. Thank you for this beautiful piece. It’s validating and comforting to know that other teachers love their students as much as I do! What a gift you were to that little zebra. You sound like a wonderful educator and human being.


    1. Thankyou so much Shireen!!!


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