This week I volunteered for a few writing workshops at a local literacy organization.
The setup is pretty neat — schools treat these workshops as field trips, so the kids get to ride a bus to a place that is new. This also makes the workshop more of an “experience,” despite the fact that the writing exercises aren’t very different from what likely goes on in the classroom.
Each day there is a designated theme students learn and write about, such as “Setting the Scene” or “Lessons I’ve Learned.” Paid instructors craft the content (lesson plans, YouTube clips, worksheets, games etc.) and volunteers like myself are mostly there to provide assistance, encouragement, and assurance that no one gets stabbed with a pencil (a plausible scenario when dealing with third graders).
Here are 3 highlights I’d like to share:
- The Inspirational: One of the students, “Layla,” was from a home where Spanish is the dominant language and she wasn’t able to write in English at the pace of the lesson plan. However, I appreciated her determination to participate, her politeness, and her brazen willingness to ask for help (she would tell me her ideas and I’d spell each sentence out letter-by-letter). It was truly inspiring to be part of that, especially while some of her peers were bouncing off the walls and generally taking things for granted.
- The Humorous: My friends who have been schoolteachers for years could probably write novels worth of funny anecdotes generated by their students, but these interactions are new to me and so many things were simply hilarious. In one moment I was so proud and hopeful for the rising generation when a 3rd grade boy knew that a Gaming PC required a special chip . . . in the next moment he titled his story “Dream House for Rich People Only” and said that he wanted “grilz” everywhere 🙂
- The Spiritual: In teaching the kids to think critically about descriptive language, one of the instructors showed a YouTube clip from the movie Toy Story. The scene featured a villainous character, Sid (the neighborhood bully who tortures toys). When the instructor asked the children to describe Sid, one of the boys said, “he’s probably someone who doesn’t believe in God.” The instructor essentially tried to blink away the “G word” that had just been uttered, but the boy continued, “maybe he believes in the devil since he does bad things.”
I totally understood the situation the instructor was in — honestly part of me wanted to move things to a safer space, so we could all enjoy the comfortable complacency fostered by separation of church and state. Suppressing faith is an instinctual reaction I adapted while pursuing higher education, and regrettably solidified while working in corporate America.
At the same time, the boy’s innocent candor brought a huge smile to my face, and I wanted to wink and say something along the lines of “Good answer kid, Jesus is awesome” 😉
What if I had?
— Feb 18, 2018