I was invited to be a speaker for career day at a New York City public school - PS 124, the Yung Wing Public School at 40 Division Street in Chinatown. This was both exciting and harrowing - I had never been in a public school in the city, and I also had never spoken before a class. I had written notes and a rough agenda, which were soon abandoned for a more organic approach.
The teacher who invited me was a former employee who, in May 2008, brought her class to my business for a field trip. That visit was filled with screams and squeals of joy. It was mutual adoration day. You can see that story and photo here.
Yesterday was a very different experience. It has been a long time since I have been in any school, and, good students or not, the kind of playfulness I saw on the field trip was reigned in by the school/classroom structure and atmosphere.
I made 3 short presentations to 4th graders - classes were rotated while presenters were stationed in various classrooms. Afterwards, I stayed and observed one of Judy's classes with second graders. Maintaining discipline and focus is a daunting task - constant vigilance is needed. Many of the kids were distracted, and controlling the talking seemed to be an unending battle. I can see why teaching children appears to be the domain of the young. Teacher burnout is a well known phenomenon for many good reasons - poor school resources, low pay, workload, student discipline, and high expectations for test scores and from parents.
A fascinating piece of technology was the SMART Board interactive whiteboard, which uses touch technology to detect user input and a projector to display a computer's video output, including Internet access. Digital pens and erasers replace traditional whiteboard markers and erasers. I used it to display one of my blog postings and also to simultaneously write a few words. Judy used the Smart Board in her class to display a countdown clock from the Internet for their 25 minute quiet reading period. The level of sophistication is very high - when I asked if anyone was familiar with Netflix video streaming, almost all raised their hands.
I was particularly impressed with the children's poetry work and the list of things that could be found in a poem - you can see it here in my complete gallery of photos.
I think I was quite unrealistic about my expectations - I suffered the idealism of a new teacher. As I left, I passed by the lunch room - the din was just incredible. It occurred to me that I had forgotten that these were good kids, just doing what kids do :)