Saturday, May 28, 2011

Done In A Day

That's the name of the Junior Achievement program that comes to visit our school each year around this time. It serves a couple of purposes: First of all, it gives the kids a break from the standard curriculum that is beginning to run a little thin after eight months, and second it gives teachers a chance to sit down. The volunteers that show up are the guest lecturers for the day. The regular teachers provide support in terms of managing the more "enthusiastic" kids, but mostly hang in the back of the room while the mysteries of the world of business unfold in front of their students.
That's when it's working well. The range of volunteer commitment ranges from one to one hundred percent, usually in connection with the number of years they have been working for the bank. Yes, we are getting Bank of America employees to spend the day at our school and share their experience and energy with kids whose only contact with banks are Automatic Teller Machines. You can usually get a pretty good read on how the day will unfold in the first few minutes. If the volunteer introduces him or herself by their first name, then they probably won't last the full five hours. Less lunch. And recess. You can usually see the fear in their eyes as the hands shoot up around the room and the questions start: "How old are you?" "Are you married?" "Do you have a car?" "Why do you wear a tie?"
At this point, most teachers will step in and deflect some of the more aggressive questioning, pointing volunteer and kids back to the packaged lesson they have in front of them. If the volunteer skips past important instructions or whole chunks of the lesson, you can be sure they will be heading for the door sometime before lunch. It's the regular teacher's job to try and get as much out of them as they possibly can.
Those of us who have been doing this a few years will steer the class and their guest back to the details like vocabulary and descriptions of finance, producers and consumers. In some cases, when the volunteer hasn't shown up prepared, we pick up where they left off and teach the lesson ourselves. It is by no means a mistake that this is scheduled on one of our early dismissal days. Another hour might cause some of these well-intentioned fresh faces to melt on the spot. By the first break, many of them will be loosening their now-questioned tie. "I didn't think it was going to be so hard." By lunchtime, they are anxious to pass out their prizes and move on to the thank you portion of the day.
Most of the volunteers have left the campus by the time the bell sounds to bring the kids back to class from lunch. We teachers wrap up the last hour with letters of appreciation, many of which are decorated with crayon drawings of tall people with smiles and ties. We know we'll be here for a few more weeks, but they were done in a day.

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