"Dad, can you come in for our scientists workshop?" second-born asked.
"You want me there?" I queried.
"Yeah," he answered, with that smile of his, eyes scrunched.
"You know I can't come in all the time," I said, "now that I'm working."
"But I can still come in once or twice, maybe."
I have huge respect for teachers. Elementary teachers, especially. I find it challenging enough dealing with my own two kids, let alone an entire class.
The workshop, run by Scientists in School, depends on the help of parent volunteers to come in and man a station. Groups of four or five students rotate through each one. There were five parents ready, willing and able to help these second-graders learn more about simple machines.
I got the levers station. The scientist explained the activities, providing me instruction sheets in both official languages, English and French, for the three activities I'd run. "Don't worry if you can't get through them all," the scientist said.
In a class of twenty-five kids, it's interesting to note the different personalities. You have the fidgeters, daydreamers, quiet ones and boisterous ones. There's the unimpressed, the studious, the impulsive. The artful educator will find a way to get everyone on the same page, in the same general direction.
Easier said than done.
The first set of guinea pigs, er, students, arrived. A french immersion class, I did my best to address the kids en français.
"Bonjour, je m'appelle Jeff—ici c'est la station de leviers—the levers station." The kids started playing with the props, before I could explain them. I took too long on the first activity and made a mental note for the next group. Tighten it up and bring props out after explanation.
Artful, I was not.
Second set of students arrived. I remembered my own advice. Keep it crisp. This one went more smoothly. Even got through all the activities.
Third group filed in. As they settled down, a precocious boy asked, "Do you like boogers?"
I stifled a laugh, mulling over what sort of tone I wanted to establish.
"Only the salty ones," I joked.
"EW!" the kids chortled. Bonding over boogers. I can get into the mind of a seven-year-old. As the lesson wore on, we joked a little too much and were losing pace because of it. The students, however, seemed fairly engaged and on-task.
The booger-joking boy got distracted, disturbing the other kids, not letting me finish my sentences. I asked him politely to stop—a couple times, but the behaviour persisted. Peeved, I told him, "Hey—I'm taking time out of my day to be here. If you can't handle this, I don't want you here."
"You're mean!" he snapped.
"I'm not mean," I answered, "I'm being strict—there's a difference."
"You're a booger!" he blurted, throwing down the gauntlet.
Each child has a unique way of looking at things. Maybe it's not so important about getting through the material as it is to engage a student. Sometimes you need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture.
The students awaited my response to the booger challenge. Would I kick him out? Would I give him a talking to?
"You're a booger!" I threw back at him, joking. Our back and forth continued, and we burst out laughing. We finished the lesson without interruption. Who would have thought my saving grace would be snot-related?
I enjoyed volunteering in my son's class, but by the end of three hours, I was exhausted.
I tip my hat to teachers everywhere. I don't know how you do it, but I definitely thank you.
Photo: Freeimages.com – Dave Di Biase