January 14, 2013

sleep on it

What a difference a few days makes! Last Friday, I regaled my tale of a volunteering day gone south. I had a rough class, a group of kids that seemed totally unreachable. I felt so sad that I didn't reach them and came home feeling dejected and ineffective. I take my volunteer work very seriously so when it doesn't go well, I feel like it's a reflection on myself.

Today, I returned to the same school, for a similar group of students. Upon leaving last Friday, I was promised by the principal if I came back on Monday, it would be a better experience. I was skeptical, admittedly. I mentally prepped myself thinking that if only I had known what to expect, I could do better. I wished desperately for a do-over because I feel like those young people the other day were cheated.

As I started this essay, a day makes such a difference, as does information and preparation.

I had a charming group of 5th graders today. Similar circumstances, in an alternative setting, with a full time teacher and aide in the room. The children all have to take medication for behavior issues and I was warned ahead of time that one of the kid's meds usually took the first hour to kick in.

I apprehensively walked into the room and asked the teacher if I could have a few minutes with her before I started. I explained with trepidation that I had been there on Friday, with the class next door, and that my day had been less than ideal, and actually at times frightening. I almost pleaded with her that if there was anything I needed to know before I started my day, to please let me know. I asked if I would need a talking tool (a small toy that whoever was speaking would need to be holding), I asked her if it would be a problem to put the children all together at a table, or would they start breaking into fights? I found a new level of humility the prior week, by assuming too much in my abilities.

Armed with my resolve and my bag of lessons, I greeted their smiling faces and eager dark eyes. I felt a warmth. Their desks were arranged for a little more eye contact and the teacher assured me that there would be no disrespect or cursing. That it simply didn't happen in her classroom. She also warned me that the kids may get a little rambunctious because they are used to routine and my class plan was outside the routine. I want to report that they were nothing more than typically energetic students. They were polite, on task, and attentive.

I had a wonderful day. I met children thirsty for knowledge and ideas. Every one of today's kids participated, said please and thank you, joined in the game and met my eyes not with hostility but friendliness.

I am not sure what the difference was, but after talking to the aide for a while during our lunch, I learned that the other class was taught by a long term sub and that they'd had several teachers in the past year. Meanwhile, today's class had the same teacher this year and last year. She knew her charges and their stories. They were good and bright little people. They were the product of consistency. One of them begged me to stay all day or at least come back. We had fun and they learned so much. I am so proud of them.

What a difference it makes to sleep on it. I think one of the keys is not to give up. Their teacher hasn't given up on them, she has reinforced so much with them repeatedly. They knew what she expected and they lived up to it. They are a reflection of her dedication to her profession. I sing her praises.  For a few moments, I wavered the other day. I was afraid I was unqualified, untrained and unprepared to help this type of group. But if not me, who? I had committed to help and I had a job to do.

I only have one wish now... I want a do-over. I want to spend another day with the other kids. I wish I could try again. I believe in what I do and I believe in the power of young minds to absorb. I believe.

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