Classroom Buddies

What’s more fun than bucket of possums and an electric eel? Playing with second graders, of course!

Two friends and I were lucky enough to get such an experience. Our company offers a program called Classroom Buddies. In it, volunteers can take time off during a work day to help an elementary school teacher take care of his/her class.

This year, we got a rambunctious and edifying second grade class. Rambunctious meaning they were like a bucket of possums on speed, with two electric eels. Edifying meaning they opened my eyes to how much things have changed since I was in second grade.

The school we served happens to have a large population of children from low-income families, many of whom are immigrants. The majority of students speak Spanish, though all classes are taught in English.

On our first day, the students jumped out of their seats to greet us. What a warm welcome. Some hugged us, some slapped our hands, most just stared at us and giggled—at what exactly, I have no idea (maybe I had a booger on my nose).

After introductions and trying to explain what we do at work, the teacher let her students ask us questions.

Now, what would you realistically expect second graders to ask? Something like, “Do you like your work?” or “Do I really need to study math?”, right?

If you did, you’d be a fool. Kids nowadays don’t care about things like work and math. They care about things like… well… dating and marriage. (Blame Britney Spears.) For instance:

“Are you married?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” (to the girl in our group).

And for added fun, one asked the girl, “How old are you?”

“Um, how old do you think I am?” she responded.

“62!” the kid yelled. She’s not 62, by the way; nowhere near it. Maybe these second graders should care more about things like math.

Later, when the teacher wasn’t around, the kids opened up and just started talking about random things.

“My Dad works at WalMart,” said one.

“My sister is pregnant again,” said another.

“The police came to my house again, because my Daddy was yelling at my Mommy.” Yikes.

Each day we returned, we did some fun activity. Like make sock puppets. Or find Easter eggs. Or build gingerbread houses.

Oh yea, gingerbread houses. Want to hear another edifying experience? At our disposal were gingerbread men, liquorish, candy corn, candy canes, mini marshmallows, gumdrops, graham crackers, and icing for glue.

Some of the boys exercised their creativity with these items. For instance:

A gingerbread man holding a marshmallow was: a man throwing a snowball. Ah, that’s creative. Half of a gingerbread man lying next to a bunch of marshmallows was: a man ducking for cover behind a bush. Um, oh.

A gingerbread man holding a black piece of liquorish was: a man with a gun. Ah, I didn’t realize that was a common childhood memory. And a gingerbread man with a candy corn on his back was: a man stabbed in the back. Yikes!

The second graders didn’t exhibit any particular sociopathic behavior, at least, none that an untrained amateur like me could see. Sure, on the playground, there were bullies. But none of the kids were carrying a gun or knifing each other in the back, thankfully.

Speaking of the playground, the boys would often ask to play soccer. Some of the girls wanted to join in, but the boys shooed them away.

“Why don’t you want them to play with us?” I asked.

“Sometimes we do.”

“I’ll bet they always beat you, right?” I snickered.

“Noooo! But sometimes they chase us and try to kiss us.”

Again, remember: these are second graders we’re talking about. Back in my day, which admittedly is like a thousand years ago, second grade girls never chased boys and tried to kiss them. Or at least, they never chased and tried to kiss me. Sniff.

The energy level of second grade boys was extremely high too. They ran me ragged in a matter of minutes.

“Hey, I’m pooped, I’m going to sit here and watch you guys play,” I said.

“Noooo! You can’t sit down, you’re a big kid! You HAVE to play!”

Heh. A second grader called me a big kid. Nice.

It wasn’t all fun and play though. Several students had a hard time with English, so the teacher asked them read to us. Even though the books were first grade books, some still struggled. Hopefully we helped a little.

One boy, who only spoke to us in Spanish, was happily speaking to us in English by the end of the year. I like to think we reached him.

And just like that, the school year was over. But not before the kids left us with some parting thoughts.

One boy said to me, “Thank you for coming. I like you guys.” Aww, how nice.

One girl said to the girl in our group, “Can you be my Mommy?” Um, what’s wrong with her current Mom?

Another boy suddenly became very aggressive. He hit and tripped the other students repeatedly. “That’s a sign that he has a bad home life and doesn’t want school to end,” explained the teacher. “He doesn’t want to go home.” Damn, poor kid.

And so closed an edifying experience with a class of rambunctious second graders. Some of it was a symptom of the kids’ environment; some of it maybe was the growing influence of Britney Spears. All of it was an awesome experience.

Man, I’m pooped. Anyone have a quiet bucket of possums?

. . .

Ever have an edifying experience with second graders?

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

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