In which I teach gym and meet kids

by wltreece

Last week the kids had half days, and instead of my standard hour of tutoring, I led kids in various after-school activities for six hours straight for two days last week. Teaching elementary PE isn’t something I expected to do when I signed up for this job – or really ever.

I’m not sure I ever effectively taught the kids (1st and 2nd grade) the rules of a game, which is maybe okay. Volleyball quickly became keep-the-ball-in-the-air with a net in the middle – which might be what volleyball looks like when you have no preconceptions about the sport. Similarly, dodgeball was exciting because you got to run and throw balls – but the big picture rules like getting “out” or staying on your side of the gym were lost in the excitement. My enlightened adult mind fretted about this for a while, but ultimately, this after-school program is a chance for the kids to blow off steam.

I also enjoyed watching the mutation of games. During free play, I played a lot of Catch, which became Seven-Person Catch when other students saw how much fun throwing/catching a ball can be; which became Sitting-Down Catch after one person sat down and started a trend; which became Throw the Ball in Funky Ways when we got creative; which became a sort of Jackpot when we added a competitive edge (but without the jackpots, although maybe there’s a math lesson in there somewhere). I was hoping for Monkey in the Middle, but didn’t force it.

PE was draining, and I came home Wednesday with a splitting headache. The gym also made its way into my dreams, where I dreamt about playing basketball, which I’m not sure I’ve ever done before (full disclosure: I was playing against Jon Stewart and a team of Pokemon, and John McCain was refereeing).

Even though I was exhausted from gym, I think one of my strong suits is relating well to kids individually. I found myself doing a lot of damage control with kids who didn’t want to participate. I met:

D, who wanted to hurry up and get to the art activities so she could make her mama a nice card for her birthday. Her mama is an Executive Chef, and D loves her very much. She also hated running around the gym and just wanted to lie down and kind of scream to herself.

B, who I met when he was ripping his clay dinosaur to shreds with accompanying sound effects. Not the artistic type – but actually a very happy kid who gets carried away sometimes. He was proud to show me his name on the wall outside the cafeteria, honored for being #1 in reading in the fourth grade and in the top scores for math as well. He wants to maybe be a marine, and he loves raisins. He also occasionally called his raisins, or his dodgeball of choice, “my precious,” and would then pretend to go into an insane fit. I asked him if he liked Lord of the Rings, or Gollum, or hobbits, and he had no idea what I was talking about.

T, who got into the habit of hugging me whenever she sees me. And since habits spread among 7-year-olds, just about everyone else in 1B does the same now – or if not, they scream “Mr. Will” whenever I’m nearby. Working with kids can be a very loud ego trip.

D, who vacillates between perfect angel and perfect devil quicker than any kid I’ve ever met. This kid would run out of the room and hide somewhere in the building on a moment’s notice, emitted a lot of random high-pitched noises at inopportune moments, and liked to climb in my lap and pretend to go limp. But he also got really excited about working a broom, cleaning up, and throwing trash away (an absolute godsend among first-graders) and, amazingly, sat down and focused on a wordsearch for a good twenty minutes. His wordsearch skills threw me for a loop because he had a lot of trouble communicating through words. Clearly some sort of learning disability at play here – it would be nice if they gave us info on the kids. I did a lot of sitting with him in time-outs and tracking him down after he ran away, and by the end of the two days I was the only person he’d consider listening to – maybe what I’m most proud of from my brief tenure with the after-school program.

Before last week, I was relegated to a sort of tutoring bubble within the school; the kids I tutor are the ones whose parents care enough to sign them up for extra help. I left the after-school program with a much better sense of the school’s student population as a whole.

I finished my internship at the Notebook at the end of January, and had several articles in their February edition: a news brief about community responses to Philly’s school closings plan, an interview with two parent advocates for the Eye on Special Ed feature, and a short filler piece on Philly’s Grad Coach Campaign.

I’m now assembling news roundups for a fairly popular education blog, This Week in Education. It’s fun – I have the edifying task of reading all the K-12 education headlines every morning. I recommend reading the blog, too; the bloggers respect your time and keep posts short, and there’s a lot of skepticism toward all the ed policy players as well as some timely cultural commentary (links to two good posts that just went up today). You can see my roundups here.

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One Comment to “In which I teach gym and meet kids”

  1. Very interesting details! I liked thinking about the different patterns of behavior you were talking about, and why the kids might be behaving in those ways. I’ll be curious to hear how things go with D (perfect angel/perfect devil), whether you do eventually find out a diagnosis, and if so, whether it helps you deal with him.

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