Never thought I'd be heading back to fourth grade
I have dreams sometimes, nightmares really, that I'm back in school. But last week, I was back in school in real life. I visited and volunteered an hour of my time with the fourth graders my cousin, Melissa Reynolds, teaches at Bettie F. Williams Elementary in Virginia Beach, Va. Melissa is an amazing teacher at this Title 1 (high-poverty rate) school. Melissa's morning class is integrated with children who have special education needs.
I've been wanting to visit her classroom for some time. Maybe I'd talk about my job or read them a book. It's good for these kids to meet role models who can demonstrate how education has made them successful. The only problem is that talking to kids scares the bejesus out of me! Yes, I am a professional speaker and speechwriter, but how in the heck could I entertain an entire fourth grade class even for one hour?
Desperate for help, I tweeted out for some advice. Here are the tips my Twitter friends offered:
@prolificliving: Do *not* let them smell that fear or else...!
@pickledtreats: Be yourself, because kids can spot a faker!
@shirleyrogerson (my mom): Jen says relate your talk to Justin Bieber!
@captkevman: Don't think of them as kids. Just avoid overly complex words and treat them as peers.
@Carpooler42: try to involve them with interaction, it keeps their attention
Okay, I got my advice. It was time to come up with a plan.
Since I was heading off later in the week to Nicaragua for vacation and would be donating supplies to my friend, Dawn Gray Moraga, who does mission work teaching art to underprivileged kids there, I came up with the idea to teach Melissa's class about Nicaragua and then have her fourth graders make valentines for the kids in Nicaragua.
Melissa's classroom is equipped with a high-tech Promethean interactive white board. I made a short slide presentation about Nicaragua, including information about geography, culture and the country's main exports. During the presentation, Melissa handed each kid a handheld remote that would allow the kids to submit answers to questions about Nicaragua to the Promethean board for everyone to see. Pretty impressive to see this technology in action, and I'm happy to see teachers like my cousin taking full advantage of its capabilities. Afterward, Melissa and I provided the kids with materials to make valentines and taught some Spanish phrases they could write on their cards.
There was no reason to be scared of heading back to fourth grade. The kids were wonderful and easy to please! They loved me and they loved my presentation. I got all kinds of questions about Nicaragua, and the students were genuinely excited about sending some valentines to the Nica kids.
Melissa's curriculum is centered on teaching children The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. At the end of the activity, she asked the class, "Which one of the seven habits did making the valentines represent?" One of the kids responded, "win-win" and explained that they got to have fun making valentines and that the less fortunate kids in Nicaragua would feel good to get them.
I am so glad I faced my fear of entertaining children. Of course, all of this went smoothly because Melissa and her teaching assistant were there keeping the students focused and on task. I had a blast and so did the kids. I'm sure the Nica children will enjoy their surpise.
I agree with Melissa's student, anytime you can make a positive impact on someone else, it's a win-win. What have you done that is win-win lately? Even just an hour of your time can make a difference.