Friday, February 27, 2009

Shaping young minds

A couple of years ago, I was motivated to become a teacher for a day, have a positive impact on the youth of America, and honestly, take a break from the tax accounting gig to feel that I was actually doing something meaningful...even if only for a day. Take hold of these business concepts, kids! You CAN go to college! The world is your oyster!! Of course, I didn't just run off to an elementary school and take over a classroom; good ol' PwC set up a volunteer opportunity with Junior Achievement, rounded up a bunch of accountants, armed us with bags of supplies, and sent us off into the lion's den. I mean...into a local elementary school.

I thought it was a fantastic concept! Take some professionals (look where education can take you!), give them the opportunity to teach basic business/community/life concepts to the kids while having a little fun...bonding/learning occurs, and we all have warm fuzzies at the end of the day.

My memories of that first Junior Achievement teaching experience have faded somewhat. I do remember...I told myself I would never do it again. I was mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day, and I don't know that the kids actually got anything relevant out of what we attempted to teach them. When we could actually get their attention. And keep their attention for more than thirty seconds. Honestly, it made tax look a lot more interesting and fulfilling (I'm upholding the economic stability of our country! Oh, wait, that's not working out so well right now....well, I'm sure there's some socially redeeming quality in my work). I was grateful to be spending my days among adults, even if some of them did act like children from time to time.

My resolve to avoid this experience didn't quite stick. Presented with the opportunity to participate in the program again here in DC, I hesitated only briefly before jumping right in again. Surely it's worth another shot! This will be fun! Little kids can be so adorable, and when they get something and that light bulb goes off it's just so great! Get ready, third graders - time to learn all about our city! We're tackling "economic development, local businesses, and career opportunities!" You get to measure blueprints, identify city zones, build buildings, open your own restaurant, learn how a bank works...I mean, this is some pretty awesome stuff. The third grade lesson was the one I taught before, so I was comfortable with the materials and the concepts. Ok. Let's give this another chance!

Frustration began setting in after about...oh, I don't know...fourteen minutes or so. The sustained noise level over the course of the day was just astounding. Then there are plenty of other things. Do you think that some kids have it while others just...don't? That dear sweet boy keeps trying, but I just don't know if he's going to get there, even if I hold his hand every step of the way. Can you teach someone how to learn? Or try to help them even want to learn? I don't know if I caught Miss-I'm-Only-8-Years-Old-But-I-Think-This (and by extension YOU)-Is/Are-Stupid-And-I-Choose-To-Roll-My-Eyes-And/Or-Ignore-You-For-The-Vast-Majority-Of-The-Day....until you offer me ice cream (I'm fairly certain the grammar in her head did NOT come out like that - it's all me, folks) on the wrong day, but seriously? How do you get through to some of these kids? It requires infinitely more patience than I possess, and at least I can rule out this particular career choice if I see the need for (another) big life change. I can't decide if it gets better or worse as they get older.

Were we this bonkers in elementary school? I mean, I know I encountered the occasional kid who just had to put on a show and talk talk talk, but were there entire classrooms of them? I'm wondering if I had a sheltered, nurturing elementary school experience. Probably so. Thank you, Mom & Dad, and thank you, fellow elementary school classmates. We had some good times.

The day did have its redeeming moments. We had some hugs thrown in there at the end from the sweet girls, a few of the kids really participated (and did such a great job with the projects!), and I'd like to think we made some kind of positive impression on them. I hope. They at least appreciated the ice cream. Oh, rats. Maybe all we really did was contribute to the obesity problem plaguing America's youth.

I have had some good teaching experiences! We taught/attempted to teach the local elementary school kids some Spanish when I was in high school - I have some pretty fond memories of that, actually. Perhaps it's just age giving a glossy sheen to days of years past.

Tip of the hat to all of you teachers out there. I couldn't do it every day. I can barely do it one day a year. Well, possibly two days a year. I'm potentially up for another round in the fall....maybe the kindergarten kids haven't learned "surly" and are still adorable little knowledge-sponges.

No comments: