Friday, April 17, 2015

Confessions of an After School Teacher

I have a few confessions to make:
Sometimes I forget our students have been in school all day and they have most likely been told to sit down several times over.
Sometimes I forget they are just kids and they do what kids do, which is run and jump and make insane noises and laugh and play jokes.
Sometimes I forget to sit down with them and ask them about their day and just have a genuine conversation with them.
Sometimes I forget they are tired, that a few may have taken afternoon meds, and that all they want is a cushy piece of carpet to lay down on.
Sometimes I don't always know what drama has happened at school or if a home situation has shifted.
And sometimes I feel as though the class was a little out of hand that day and I go home feeling that I could have responded to situation differently with a more positive outcome.

We shared a post last June titled 7 Secrets of After School Teachers.  We wanted to share how we keep things in perspective, organized and focused on our students to provide safe and fun educational programs without going a little nuts. 
I felt that it was time again to share my views, or confessions rather, how our program really looks like some days. 

Many days look like the photo below...
+ Quick clarification of a lesson with our AmeriCorps teachers
+ One child just wants to hold a hand
+ Another wants pretzels and gets up to walk around
+ And another makes funny faces to his peers...
The list goes on.

If my first year as Education Coordinator has taught me anything, it is to know when to let go and to choose my battles.
Sometimes a young student just does not want to participate or follow directions. Sometimes they yell or use other means to get attention or to show their disapproval of our current activity. Sometimes it can be hurtful to themselves or those around them.

Instead of repeating over and over the directives I would like for them to do, I have learned to give them the choice and remind them how their choices now, are affecting their privileges later on, such as free time or technology time. Instead of screaming to get their attention I stand and wait patiently with little reminders of how much free time they are currently losing for the group due to chatting and carrying on with their peers instead of focusing their attention on the teacher.

Lamar (below) has a difficult time with lessons and sitting still. It is hard for him to calm down when what he wants to do is create something, entertain someone or just play.  It took me half the year to realize that he listens and interacts with a lesson better when he is creating something.
So I put paper, scissors and markers in front of him and said "Make me something."
His body immediately calms and quiets down and when a teacher asks a question about the lesson he eagerly raises his hand to answer.
He usually cuts out hearts for me to wear or draws me storm troopers (or the white people as he refers to them) because we like to talk about Star Wars together.
We can't do this every time, but there is a time to let go and assess what is best for the student and the class in any given situation. Sometimes it is to sit next to them and help them listen and other times it is to remove them from the group and give them paper, scissors and markers and say "Make me something."

Sometimes I throw out the original plan for the day, to go with what the kids are feeling which can lead to rquested games of hot potato, going to the park, doing the cha cha slide and lots of silliness and laughter.

Let's be honest, no one is perfect. We all have days where things do not go quite as planned. Kids don't always do exactly what we ask of them in our program.  It is not always smooth sailing. Kids can be unpredictable at times. One child can set the tone for the whole classroom.
How we react to those times
is what our students are watching for. 
If we ask them to not throw the markers on the floor when things don't go their way, maybe I should be more patient with them when they are not following directives like I have asked. Maybe that is a time I sit down on the floor with them and pick up the markers and discuss with that child how their day was at school.

Smiles go a long way with our kids.
Stop, smile, high five, make a silly face, these are a regular routines for myself and our staff.  
It is amazing how many situations have been remedied with a deep breath, a giggle or a high five.
We are fortunate to have a great team supporting our Brashear Education Department, from our hard working Americorps to our reliable Duquesne students to our generous volunteers

We do not claim to be perfect or to have it all together but we strive hard each day to make it a little bit better for the students we come in contact with and our community around us.


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