In university, we’re so accustomed to lectures, powerpoints, and textbook reading. It got to the point where I almost forgot what it was like to be a child in an elementary classroom. My first day I decided to take a leap; I had the option to wait a few days to get accustomed to the students, but instead I took the lead and taught a math and science lesson.
“Ah, I’ve got this,” I remember stating to my mentor teacher, Nancy. I was a bit overconfident; yes, the concepts are elementary (see what I did there) but relaying that simplicity to the children proved to be a bit of a challenge. Math went fairly well, just a bit unorganized. In science however, I introduced the unit on “ Boats and Buoyancy.” If you can recall, this unit is about what properties allow a material to sink or float (to begin). Peanuts. This wouldn’t be tough at all; buoyancy, density, surface tension are just a few of the terms introduced, and I know those like the back of my hand.
What I didn’t know was how to explain this to seven-year old children. It started off well, I read them a book to get them interested, showed them a quick five minute video with cartoon characters. Then came the funny part: As I began to explain the term density, I accidentally dove into a chemistry lesson. I began by explaining that if an object is denser than water, it would sink. If the object is less dense, it will float. “Hmm, how could I further drive this home? Oh, I know!” I began to go into the properties of water.
“Water has a density of 1.00 grams per milliliter. If we want an object to sink it must possess a density of more than 1 gram per milliliter.” I continued on, illustrating my examples, without really looking at the students. By the end of my little spiel, I turned around to see the blankest stares I’ve ever encountered in my life. These kids must have thought I was speaking in tongues!
Afterwards, to debrief, my mentor teacher pulled me outside the classroom (as she does after every lesson I teach), to give me some pointers. Nancy gave me three incredible pieces of advice: assume nothing, relax, and don’t budge even a little bit in terms of classroom management.
By assume nothing, what she meant was that these children are essentially blank slates with very little background knowledge. I didn’t comprehend just how little knowledge they possessed until I saw the spelling test. Simplistic words like ‘don’t’, ‘can’t’, and ‘found.’ As a writer this was tough for me; I’m constantly trying to expand and challenge my vocabulary to become stronger, and now I have to roll it back 15 years to be on the same level as these kids. This is a challenge I seemed to be overcoming as the week went on.
Relax. I was incredibly anxious on my first day, I didn’t know what was allowed and what wasn’t. I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries. Nancy told me to relax, and that this was in essence my classroom for the time being (with assistance of course).
Naturally, with someone ‘new’ in the classroom, children are bound to push the limits in terms of what they can get away with. I needed to lay down the law, to try and be firm but not cruel. I don’t stay mad at a child, nor will I ever. Even the best behaved children act out at times. Classroom management is one of the most important aspects, yet it can’t exactly be taught. Yes, we can learn concepts, but until we’re in the classroom it’s difficult to predict what type of situations may arise.
By the end of this week, I feel like an entirely different teacher. I feel confident in my ability to overcome the small refinements I need to make. I feel confident I can impact a generation. This practicum is furthering the idea that I just want to make people's lives better.
The children seem to love me, and they make me feel confident. When I hear “Mr. Sieben, you’re like so so awesome,” or when I get random hugs from students it reminds me of why I entered this profession: to educate, inspire, and unlock talents they didn’t know they had. There is no feeling like the feeling of knowing a child has learned a new skill because you taught it to them.