Friday, March 31, 2006

Teaching Flashbacks

The public schools in our town are on spring break right now, and our church is having a morning church school program for preschool and school-age kids for the week. My wife and I signed Benjamin up for it and I signed up to volunteer to work at the program for a few of the days.

Benjamin hasn't had a whole lot of experience with long, organized group activities or learning. Nevertheless, he's been doing great. He's had no signs of "homesickness," and is adjusting to the routines quickly.

I, on the other hand, was reeling a bit after my first day of volunteering, and it was not even half of a day. I was leading the "recreation" sessions. Each (age-level) group of kids would come to "my area," and I would lead them in specific games or activities. Having taught elementary school, I was on familiar ground.

I often carelessly remark, about being an at-home dad, that I'm still teaching, but with the ideal student-teacher ratio — 1:1. It wasn't quite as funny when the "ideal" part was taken away and I was forced to humbly remind myself that even a small group of kids about whom I know little is much different terrain.

These are some pedagogical and life lessons I relearned in a few hours:

  • Kids aren't born knowing how to raise their hands or get in a line.

  • Just because kids are staring at you intensely doesn't mean they have any idea what you're saying or even that they're listeni— "What? Uhhhh, no, we're not talking about my shirt right now …"

  • You should have already come up with excuses valuable life lessons about why everyone won't be able to have a turn at being the special … whatever … today.

  • When a 10 minute activity takes 20 minutes, and you have to repeat it for the next "class," they will finish it in 5 minutes. You will want to be ready for the question-and-answer session that will follow it: "Now  what are we gonna do?" "Uhhh … "

  • Curricula are rarely written by "normal" teachers, but instead by curriculum writers and/or teachers who seem to have forgotten what it's like in a classroom. So most teachers' guides are to teaching as your car's manual is to learning to drive.

  • Any schedule that doesn't list bathroom breaks is wrong.

  • There are  naughty kids There are  kids with naughty behavior (even at church school.) Not your kids. They were great! Hope springs eternal that the naughty can be truly separated from the kid. Prepare. This transformation will not  occur under your watch.

  • Starting at around 5 or 6 years old, kids will perceive almost any activity as a competition, no matter what  it says in the teaching methods book, lesson plan, or the Bible.

  • If any sort of projector is involved, allow 5 minutes for improvisational shadow plays, 5 minutes for ceasing said shadow plays, and 5 assistants to micromanage spontaneous arm and head shadows. Alternatively, have ample security personnel to lock down a corridor between projector and screen.

  • If you're seeing leg   shadows on the screen, the owner of the leg might not  be your first choice for the student to summarize today's lesson.

I was being cautious on day one. By the second day, however, I was flagging down running kids in the hall, and jumping in front of the assembled group of kids channeling presumed-long-lost gimmicks to get their attention even when it wasn't my turn to teach. The teacher knee-jerk reflexes die hard and resurface quickly. (It took years for me to lose the impulse to intercept others people's kids running or yelling in the supermarket.)

Now a shocking confession: soon I may just be "Occupation: Part-time Dad" for a while. I have signed up to substitute teach (in the local school system). (The pay will help defray some of the adoption costs.) Not to worry, when our beautiful daughter arrives I'll be back on full-time overtime.

I don't know how much the kids learned at church this week, but I do know that God sent me some good practice for subbing.

Sub' teaching, as I recall, makes for some good stories. So the outstanding question is, do I post them here … or create Occupation: Sub?

No comments: