Thursday, May 14, 2009

First day at elementary school

(originally written March 2006)

A couple of weeks ago, I had received an email someone from the office had forwarded to everyone about this volunteer program called Junior Achievement which basically sends its volunteers to classrooms to make presentations and talk about the economics of the real world. I thought it'd be cool so I said, sure, I'll go. I volunteered, thought to start small so chose the 4th grade, went for a half hour orientation two weeks ago where they gave me a bag with all the materials I'd need. I then contacted the teacher I was assigned to (Ms. Kimberly McMahon), went to the school where I'd be volunteering, decided on the days I'd be coming in to class (5 times according to the colunteer program, around 45 minutes each). Today at 2, I showed up at the classroom for the first time. I was a little nervous because I've never taught anybody before, especially not 4th graders. But I do remember what it was like being 9 years old, so that was the limb I went out on. Whatever the volunteers are supposed to talk about is highly scripted in the manual we get, so I'd practiced the lesson plan beforehand. Today I'd be talking about myself, Junior Achievement, volunteering, and then move on to definitions and examples of regions, resources (natural, human, capital), talk a little about our region called Oklahoma, make the kids do a little Q&A in the workbooks I handed out to them, and then finish off by talking about businesses, products (goods, services). A lot of it was prompting the kids for what they thought these things were (and they were smart!) and asking them for examples. I was there for an hour, and it was awesome. I gave them JA postcards for their families and fridge magnets for them in which they could put their picture.

I got to write on the chalkboard! I used to play teacher, sometimes just by myself, when I was little. I also automatically had everyone's attention in the classroom. I think being 24 and taller than the rest of the 9 year olds had something to do with it. They were all very receptive and responsive. There were 20 children there. I was amazed at how quickly they learned my name and how open they were to learning new ideas. The best was recognizing the different personalities each one of them exhibited. It was fun because I had those same characters in my own classes while growing up. There was the independent prim 'n' proper perfectionist that liked all her stuff to be glittery and sparkley and wasn't afraid to take initiative, and then there was the highly active boy who knew all the answers and wanted to be a NASA scientist when he grows up. There was the shy little girl who didn't speak much but took her own time to observe you and become friendly eventually after she'd evaluated everything. There was the girl whose personality had so much serious gravity and she told me later that she had 5 sisters and she was the 2nd eldest. And then there was the the scruffy troublemaker boy who looked like he needed to comb his hair and would grow up to be the sensitive rebel, like a combination of James Dean and Marlon Brando. I was only there for an hour but it was amazing how comfortable I felt with them. Each kid had his/her own personality, and each was different. I saw some of my old classmates in them, some that I have not come across in years and don't even know where they are anymore, waving back at me from each kid, saying, 'Hey! I'm this kid!'. I even saw my old self in one of the kids.

I talked a lot about myself. I started off by showing them on a world map where I was born (India), where I grew up (Oman), and how far that is from Oklahoma. They were all aghast, and one of them let 'dang' slip out. :D I later showed them a picture of my 12th grade class, and they thought it was cool that I had to wear the same kind of uniform from 1st grade to 12th grade. At the end, I told them that I would write their names in Hindi and Urdu for them if they wanted me to, and they were so excited about it. They rushed to me with the table nametags I had given them earlier on, and I wrote their names for them. Eventually, they wanted me to write their last names too. The prim and proper girl wanted me to write her name in the new glittery markers she had bought. One kid asked me to write his last name because he was going to get adopted next week and wanted me to write his new last name. The girl with the 5 sisters, she came up to me quietly later with her notebook. She had made 5 squares with the name of each sister in it, and she wanted me to write her sisters' names in Hindi and Urdu as well, the way I had done for her and the rest of the class. She said I didn't need to do all of them today, I could just write for one each time I visited (I will make 5 visits, and I had told the class that when I first started talking).

I was sitting at a student desk and writing names for all the kids surrounding me - I felt like a movie star giving autographs, really. The kids would ask me questions about myself while they were having their names written. Goodness, I thought the kids had more sense than a lot of the adults I have met in my life. I can't believe all the simplicity I was surrounded with today. They laughed at all my jokes and were bounding around me, trying to help, completely dying to answer questions, and falling out of their chair each time I mentioned some new fact about the world outside of their city. They already knew almost everything I was teaching them today, but the stuff I told them about from my personal experiences was what they enjoyed the most.

I totally felt like I was doing something innate today. It was no effort at all. I felt like how I feel like when I hang out with younger cousins.

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