Teaching School Children is Blissfully Rewarding!

In many ways, Child of Mine aka COM reminds me a lot about myself. He is a very popular kid, just like his mother was back in her young days. Well, she still is, for a fact [smile]. Except, my child is not the “naughty childish-type” I was. Shhh, don’t tell anyone that I used to skip compulsory school meals and church services, just because I did not want to!

My child is loved! And for that, I am so grateful.

It’s a pleasure watching a kids’ stampede, just to touch, speak, or sit next to COM. Even in his absence, kids tell me how he is the best thing ever invented! Not even sliced bread [or should we say, pizza] comes close. He’s everyone’s favorite, super nicest person, ever! “He does nothing wrong, never” as I was told by one of his former classmate.

At his elementary school, I am now known as “Biko’s Mom” —“because I do not have a name of my own,” or “Mrs. Henderson” —“because I derive my relationship from my child!”

Please believe that I had no influence in getting renamed by these child friends of COM. It is just because, most kids I now know are through my child —at his elementary school, on the school bus, martial arts school, library, birthday parties, community activities or play parks.

These are kids who know COM from the same Kindergarten, First or Second Grade class, belong to the same school Recycling Club, met him at birthday parties of their relatives and friends, through Cub Scout, Tae-Kwon-Do or Tang Soo Do. Some even recognize me from dropping him off at the school bus! They all rave to me, how amazing he is, and spoil me with outpouring attention, and free hugs!

These past couple of days, I’ve been with a Second Grade class where literally, everybody knows my child! One of the kids decided to call me, “Mommy.”

“She’s Biko’s mother!” said another.

Then, they had a change of heart, “Can we all call you Mommy?”

And just like that, I was no longer, “Ms. Lawenger,” but “Mommy!”

The change of name came with showers of favors: ushering me to comfortable sitting, “rest while we complete our work.”

They covered me with my coat to keep me warm; I became the class pet.

Two girls offered to bring him to me from his class at the end of the both school days. I completely forgot he had Recycling Club on Day Two, when I gave them a go-ahead to bring him to me. He came in, confused that I had called him, and went back in haste, “Mommy, I have Recycling Club!”

My day ended with smiles, hugs, spontaneous “Thank You cards,” colored pictures, and unwavering attention throughout the day. One brought a gift bag from home containing an assortment of candy, with a “Thank you for helping us learn and play” note.

 

At the end of day, I told COM about all the love I got, thanks to him, and the many “children I am now mommy to”. He was overjoyed to partake of his celebrity moment! No surprises, his dreams  in the night were loud and filled with laughters, which he told me was because he heard “choruses of mommy,” from the kids my class in his dreams.

 

Ready for more surprises? The next day, as Art Teacher, my first morning class was, “my kids” from the last two days! They all engulfed me in a big family hug, as their teacher looked on in astonishment. She, too, thanked me for a wonderful job! Honored, is an understatement; had to fight back teary eyes!

I love kids, and I love teaching. I am so grateful that I allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone of teaching college and graduated school level, demystifying to myself “Teaching in K-12.” Day by day, I become more comfortable in the classroom, more savvy with teaching aides, more technical following lesson plans, incorporating, or developing my own whenever need arises. I am more energized by the students in my classrooms, and more strategic navigating tough classrooms.

I now know how to command a classroom, dealing with badly behaving students, extending incentives for good behavior, and “putting the shine” on those students making great choices. My students, naughty or nice are as memorable to me, as I am to them.

I meet them at the grocery store or community events, at our local library or COM’s after-school events. Some tell me when they see me running along the streets, during morning or afternoon “bus duty,” or walking in the hallway.

As a friend once told me, “Children Bring you blessings.” Thus, my commitment to share of the blessings of education to children everywhere in the world, by mobilizing as many people to join me in giving a part of ourselves, to promote access to education.

Every change you give can make a change. To you it might be a roundtrip bus or train fare to work; to children somewhere in rural Uganda, it is a dozen of school books and writing materials.

Please join me in giving to the Fishing Communities of Ssi Bukunja in rural Uganda, through the African Social Development & Health Initiative, an organization founded and run by native-born of the area. This is my Birthday Wish and commitment 2016

https://www.crowdrise.com/celebrate-d-lwangas-b-day-with-uganda-fishing-communities

Children bring you blessing. Be Blessed!

Under-expected Achievement – One year Teaching K-12, and Counting!

Thankful for my social media network, my anniversary teaching K-12 in my public school district would have passed me by! Without my social network, I would most likely have made no fussy attention to my anniversary. After all, I have worked in other places without ever being vigilant or celebrated an anniversary.

Thankfully, my LinkedIn network sent me congratulatory messages. Initially, I assumed the congrats were for my seven-year and counting, crippling social philanthropy. Not until I logged into my LinkedIn profile, and realized that March 2015 is when I started working.

Even after finding out the cause of the hullaballoo about my anniversary from among my social network, I did not get too excited; I wonder why? Well, “It is just teaching,” I said to myself.

“Plus, it is not a job I set out going to school for. Nor does it pay me any living wage to excite me,” my next thoughts.

But congrats messages continued trickling in, prompting me to reflect on this achievement. Perhaps the fact that other people are celebrating me more than I was, should have signaled to me, why I should treasure this achievement? After all, I am enjoying teaching K-12! True, I never set out to be a K-12 teacher, do not have an Education degree or full teaching license.

I am a Substitute Teacher [not yet permanently] employed with the public school system. I am one of the many teachers, recruited to fill-in, per need, for any homeroom teacher, or academic/professional school activity. I am one of the many convenient hires, increasingly a feature of the public school system, as in many other employment establishments, when the government does not want to offer a living wage to all its employability people. Like corporates, government is now seeking cheap available labor to do its difficult, dirty and dangerous jobs, without much financial responsibility or optimal workers welfare/compensation/protection.

That teaching is a difficult job is indisputable. It is also technically dirty and dangerous; those whom the teacher tries to protect might get one dirty. Indeed, working with children is not for the faint-hearted; they are as adorable as they are challenging. I often say, a teacher carries the entire world on his/her shoulders —of students, their parents, school administration, school supervisors, lawmakers, school budget dispensers, and the entire public, all invested in school output, more than input.

I confess that I had under-expected my achievement teaching K-12. Indeed, it is a big feat! This, from a girl who had sworn never to teach “little kids,” preferring instead, to stick to college and graduate-level students, “more mature and manageable,” or so I had convinced myself. Venturing into teaching K-12 was a path of transition back into the world of work, and because of my changed resume, which now primarily reads, “A Mother.”

I decided to venture into teaching K-12, to gain a deeper practical insight into the school curriculum and school system at the lower levels/early stages of formal education. Particularly because I did not obtain my earlier education in here in the United States, my new country of belonging. The educator in me is always curious about systems of learning I am not familiar with. I would like to be a great help to my child, an elementary schooler, as well as my new-found love for working with children, especially since becoming a parent.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not new to teaching young learners. As one of the last-born children in my family, I grew up with plenty of nieces and nephews, whom I played with, helped take care of, and equipped them with the “Children’s experience.” I enjoy hanging out with children, keeping them occupied, learning through giggling.

I enjoy the innocence of kids. I enjoy learning through them. I enjoy utilizing the lessons I learn from my child into my classrooms. Yes, Minecraft is an acceptable citation, when explaining logical, technical activities, or very brevity and resilience like the “Enderman.” So, are Dinosaurs perfect for illustrating how old one’s grandparent might be. And when you need to encourage young learners to “try something it might tastes or turn out good,” or that, “when you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything,” Daniel Tiger is a perfect to quote.

So, to all those, like me, who venture into teaching, go out there, and courageously engage with young learners. They have so much to teach us, about ourselves, about our abilities, and about our own parenting. I am so glad that, I also get a chance to teach in Special Needs classrooms, engaging with autistic children, emotional support, gifted, learning, and reading support, life skills, partial hospitalization, and early intervention. I am grateful for the opportunity and a challenge, that came to me as an under-expected achievement!

Aluta Continua!

Mommy School: Learning with kids About Persons With Disabilities

This week in “Mommy School,” Child of Mine (COM) and I are learning about Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), as well as preparing for Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, in a week – January 18, 2016. COM is already involved with PWDs, reading to “Therapy Dogs” at our library Paws n’ Pages program.

I have explained to him the meaning of “therapy,” and that therapy dogs help people who cannot help themselves —such as, guide dogs that help their owners cross the road, comfort dogs for companionship, emergency rescue dogs helping owners out of fires, running errands around the house, or notifying 911 in case of life-threatening emergencies.

COM and I picked up a book from the library entitled, Sometimes Mommy Gets Mad, by Learning About Persons with disabilities - Jan 11 16Bebe Moore Campbell  (Author), E. B. Lewis (Illustrator), which explores the subject of “Bipolar Disorder” to young readers. It is a story about Annie’s mom, who is bright as the sunshine, but sometimes does not smile and gets very angry. Luckily for Annie, she has an understanding and caring grandma, her fortress to lean on, when mommy is having her “bad days”. And Mr. Neighbor, who understands that Annie’s mom does not mean bad, when she snaps at him, just for saying hello to her. Most importantly, Annie knows that, even when mommy seems angry on the outside, she loves her very much on the inside.

I explained to COM the meaning of “Bipolar disorder,” emphasizing the parallels between Annie’s mom, and when I am angry and displeased with him. Luckily, for me, COM reminded me that, I am not like Annie’s mom because I get mad at him for not making “good choices”—when he does not stay focused on his homework, or when he plays in the bathroom, instead of doing his routine — brush, floss and rinse.

I thought it would be helpful to supplement our book reading by introducing him to a real PWD who overcame challenges to excel. I thought it would help him understand that PWDs are not always sick and underachieved. I did not want him to feel sorry for them, but make him realize that he is privileged and has the abilities to excel, if PWDs can become winners.

I immediately thought of Oscar Pistorius, a South African spring runner and Olympic medalists, nicknamed “Blade Runner,” who overcame double amputation to compete in field and track with able-bodied persons. But after, murdering Reeva Steenkamp (no, I do not believe his “self-defense” crap), I did not want to expose COM to a tainted personality; he is not a role model, anymore!

Thankfully, there is the WWW, and there is YouTube, with plenty of videos about athletes with disabilities breaking records, and disabled persons doing extraordinary amazing stuff. We watched three videos:

1) Marcel Hug, winner of the 2015 Boston Marathon Wheelchair from Switzerland. COM got to see a marathon competitor in a wheelchair, using his hands, instead of his legs to race and climb the hill around Newton on the Boston Marathon route.

2) A mom and her son born without arms, but not deterred from enjoying life to the fullest, as active persons —swimming, cooking, playing sports, writing, dressing up themselves and getting on with their daily lives with smiles. I told COM that he had no excuse for not doing and achieving greatness, if a child without limbs could do everything.

3) Video about a double amputee mom, who found happiness after an attempted suicide. She tried to take her life by laying under a train, losing both her limbs. After becoming a mother, she said she found new meaning in life, and realized that life was not all about her. Having a child helped her find happiness and a purpose to live. And her latter boyfriend, made her life easier, and supported her in raising her son.

I explained to COM the meaning of “Depression,” when some people feel so sad and incapable of finding happiness within themselves. Some people take their own lives/kill themselves or the lives of others. COM got to see artificial legs, and the mom putting them on and off.

Next on our agenda is a practical experience of “the life of PWDs”. We will practice using crutches and a wheelchair, play a game, where he tries to eat with his hands tied up, and write a story while blindfolded.

Have you have you introduced your little ones to the subject of Persons With Disabilities? Share your stories and strategies.

Non-Religious Celebration of Christmas

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I never thought I would willingly and consciously arrange for Child of Mine to celebrate Christmas at my own volition. Not since I quit organized religion umpteen years ago! But, that is before I became a parent.

Before I realized that parenting is a totally new era in one’s life; of undoing one’s beliefs and comfort zone. Before I realized that parenting is not about you!

This year, I am gonna let Child of Mine experience a Christmas celebration, as part of my parenting.

On one hand, parenting is scripted. There are tons of books for new parents – the indisputable What to Expect series, starts When You’re Expecting…going all the way into the Second Year. It is so influential, that it was ‘canonized’ into a movie released in 2012, starring Cameron Diaz.

The alternative new parenting scripts include lessons that mothers of the Expectant mother/parents eagerly share, either unsolicited or unwelcome. Plus, Old Wives Tales, passed on through generations to expectant mothers and the new parents. Not to forget that, if the expectant parent(s) was/were born around little children — siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews, or friends children, The Parenting Script is available through first-hand observation.

Parenting, we tend to think, is easy peezy, right? Plenty of resources —reading all the books, listening to ‘experts’ advice and watching other parents! You swear to an entire Parenting Script of NEVERS!

- You vow never to repeat the ‘mistakes’ other parents commit against their children. 
- You will not allow an unruly child in your household. 
- You will not bend your rules to accommodate your child’s needs or demands. 
- You will not introduce your child to any systems of socialization that you do not adhere to, including religion, entertainment, schooling or relationships. 
- You will not babysit a five-year old child!

And many more!

Until one day, you actually become a parent! And wonder, whatever happened to your self-avowed script, the script passed down unto you by parents before you, the script you wrote when you were expecting, and the script you re-wrote as a new parent. Some among us even wrote our own What to Expect: The Birth Plan.

We also had our post-birth parenting scripted in our heads, laid out well-tested rules and regulations to maintain order, transmit culture and ‘good moral character’ into all children in our household.  Then, one wonder why you are making so many compromises to accommodate your child’s comfort over yours!

But none of the tolerable comforts include intimacy with organized religion or becoming indolent.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not have any problem with the religious. In fact, my best friend – RIP was religious. She is one of the very few people I know, beside my mom, and my mom’s father, that practiced the humanity of religion. She was more human than religious. She was never judgmental, yet she subscribe to the new religious revivalism. The pentecostals, baptists, and the whole nine yard, who scare you and ostracize you, that if you do not convert to JC, you will go to hell fire. Or that Allah is the only true path to afterlife, and there is “Judgement Day”, when everybody is gonna be judged according to their religious practices.

See, I come from a family of multiple religious beliefs. My mother’s father came from a Catholic family, but converted to Protestantism, growing up with a Protestant family. He went on to become a Reverend, serving the Protestant Church. Two of my sisters are married to Muslims; one of my sister’s ex is Catholic; my paternal family has plenty of other religions that I can only relate to old school protestantism and veganism. So, religious pluralism was never an option for me, nor religious tolerance a luxury; it was the humane way of life.

Religiosity is rife in Uganda, where I come from. There is a prevailing expectation that everyone is religious, and anyone who says s/he is not religious —that is— does not subscribe to any of the Judeo-Chiristain or Islamic religions—is often frown upon. Yet, there is a laissez-faire approach to religious tolerance.

It is not uncommon to hear the Catholic church bells toll at the top of the hour, or the Muslim call for prayer every morning and evening. Yet, the loud noise from these places of worship has not caused a societal revolt, but taken for granted as part of social living. To some, like my mother, the morning call for prayer from the neighborhood mosque has served as her wake-up alarm clock, since I was a child. Similar to the morning cock crow in the villages.

But in America and other western societies that count themselves as “civilized,” such loud ‘noise’ cannot be tolerate, as part of social living! Or perhaps there is selective tolerance of noise in different parts. For instance where I live, the church bells doth toll, yet it is unfathomable to imagine a tolerance of the Muslim Call for Prayer!

Exposure is fundamental to nurturing tolerance of others. My siblings and I attended Catholic schools, even though we were raised Protestant. We went along with the Catholic rituals at school—going to mass, reciting the rosary, observing lent period, and anything catholicism required of us.IMG_3347

None of us grew larger or smaller because of practicing a religion outside our beliefs, None of us felt indoctrinated and coopted, because outside school, we were still Protestant and went to Protestant Church. Plus, to reiterate, I have catholic family, whom I love regardless of their religion, and who I do not have the luxury of discriminating against.

Coming to America changed my relationship with religion. I ran away from religion, as soon as it started confusing me. I had never imagined that one can be religious, yet pray and support dropping bombs on others.

I don’t understand religion that welcomes strangers, yet excludes those who do not profess the same religion. I do not understand a religion, that also preaches love, then practices hate and prejudice. I do not understand a religion, where “sisterhood” is built on the notion of religious belief, not family connection or our common humanity!

Although I must say that I have been embraced by some religious communities — among the Mormons, Mennonites and Catholics—whose religious convictions is informed by a sense of community and a shared humans. I have felt very comfortable among them, never felt judged, ostracized or evangelized to, but welcomed and supported as a human being.

Coupled with my upbringing, I have remained open to embrace the religious, and allow my child get a glimpse into the various religions. We participate in religious festivities with family and friends.

But, I am not about to push him into any form of religious indoctrination. I realized that his family was not willing to incorporate him into their religious festivities because of his non-religious status, and stopped trying to get him introduced to their beliefs. On the contrary, my family takes a laissez-faire approach to him or myself, recognizing that we are more than our religious proclamations!

Still, religion is not too far from Child’s mind; he is learning about various religion from school teachers. Forget about separation of church and state, in public schools! We are talking about PA, not in NYC, where a school principal recently banned Santa, The Pledge of Allegiance, replaced Thanksgiving with “Harvest Festival,” and Christmas Celebration with “Winter Celebration!

Recently, curiosity caught the best of my Child,

COM: "Mommy, what is my religion?"
Me: "You don't have a religion."
COM: "Why don't I have a religion?"
Me: "Because I do not have a religion."
COM: "Can you check my DNA and find out what my religion is?"
Me: "So, I can know your religion from your DNA?"
COM: "Yes."
Me: "Child, you are clearly a Pennsylvanian."
COM: "Noooo! I want to be Ugandan."
Me: "Ok, you are that, too!"
[Thinking to self: Oh! It gets worse...Religiosity gets worse in Uganda!"]
😶😶

Still, we will not be subscribing to any organized religious gathering or denomination soon! But, we will accept any invitations for celebration. What better time than now in December, when we welcome Santa and his the elves, Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, al bearing gifts on Christmas Day! While we do not put up any trees, decorate or sing carols, he gets opportunities of making trees with his Cub Scout Pack and makes Christmas wreaths and talks about JC in school.

At home, we are making gingerbread cookies, dressing up in green and red, and eagerly await Santa’s gifts under the chimney. I have already taken him around our neighbor to watch Christmas decorations and musical shows stationed in yards. No religious recitals! No religious talk!

And we will spiritually join our family in celebrating Christmas, as they do every year, and the years he was in Uganda. I doubt he remembers the celebrations in Uganda when he was three and four years. I want Child to learn that some people celebrate Christmas because of their religious beliefs. I strongly believe that exposure to religion, or other social experiments/systems, breeds understanding, and breeds religious tolerance.

The religious intolerance, witnessed among some Americas, is symbolic of when religion is treated as an “exclusive club” open only to the believers. Religion in America is largely about exclusion than inclusion of those who do not profess the same faith. Those who convert from one religion to another tend to ridicule the religion they left. Some religious groups are not receptive to curious non-religious, nor encourage partaking in the celebration of customer of other religions.

Contrary to my experience growing up with religion in Uganda. Eid Christmas and Easter are all designated as public holidays. Unlike America, only Christian holidays are accorded public recognition — Christmas is conveniently scheduled as “Winter Break,” and  Easter as “Spring Break,” celebrated as days-off from work, and big shopping weekends at commercial establishments. A few establishments, employers and cities would grant “a day-off” for Muslims to celebrate Eid; in New York City, Jewish holidays and recently the Muslim Eid are designated as days-off in the school calendar. Of course the atheists and satanists aint celebrating all these religious display, in their faces!

But I want my own child growing up, with an understanding that, while mommy is non-religious, some people celebrate religious holidays. I also want him to understand that there is nothing wrong with the religious and non-religious, and none is better or more knowing than the other; they all belong to the same global society.

In fact mommy’s family is religious, and mommy friends who are religious. Mommy’s best friend who died was religious. But Auntie Jude and mommy are not religious.

I want to know that parenting involves setting goals, and exercising flexibility when raising our children as social beings. Most importantly, I want Child to know that what binds us together is our common humanity. We should be good and strive to do good to others, not because we are bound by some religious doctrine or conviction, but because it is the human thing to do.

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Profiling Kids By What they Write

Profiling carries a negative connotation, and is pretty much a taboo in our society! More scary “profiling kids”, especially within a very diverse setting like a school environment. If like me, you are an educator, you are expected to “keep all personal thoughts to own-self!”

Perhaps there is an interesting angle to profiling?

I very much enjoyed my fifth graders yesterday! They were a great joy! I had the joy of working with them on writing in the ELA class. On one of the assignments, students were required to write about their favorite activity on a hot summer day.Kids activities

Their responses were telling! From biking around the neighborhood -uphill and against the wind, swimming in the pool, going to the beach, fishing, hanging out with friends at a mall, playing indoor and outdoor with friends [jump rope, monopoly, twister], playing video games, sword fighting, yoga and meditation, fitness exercise, taking a walk outdoors, playing basketball or football, going to the field park or waterpark, to season passes to theme parks.

Even without looking at the name, reading through the assignment already gives me plenty of information to ‘profile’, who is: middle class, black, sociable, soulful, outdoor lover, friendly, loner, athletic and fitness lover or family-oriented. Who is on ‘groupon’, who spends summers at the beach, and who likes ninjas.

As an education, this information is not used to negatively ‘profile’ or characterize students. It helps in understanding the different interests, aspirations and preoccupations of your students. It also provides additional information for the support the proper education and development of students, their dreams and aspiration through schooling.

In many ways, I realized that I could place students in the classroom into appropriate skill circles by reviewing their activities and interests outside the classroom. Read together with other assignments of the day, I learned a lot about who is active, playful, enjoys own time or loves the outdoors or indoors. All these translate into their place within the classroom.

Who is enthusiastic to respond to questions in class, who would rather keep quiet until called upon by the teacher, who stutters, and who would rather not respond at all, even when called upon.

The other assignment was on sentence construction using both “prefix” and “suffix”provided. The sentences were hilarious and telling of everyone, as most students placed themselves into their sentences.

One in particular was telling. The “prefix” sentences and short and ‘commandeering’: “Pre-sent it!”De-send!” Onto the suffix sentences: “Did you walk slow-ly?” “Do your parents treat you safe-ly?” All sentences were questions, either cautionary or probing questions. I thought, “This one will make a police officer!”

As I gain more exposure and experience teaching in the K-12, I am looking our for those features and cues that would allow me provide a memorable teaching and learning experience with my students and in my classrooms. After all, teachers learn a lot from their pupils, to help them improve and grow in their teaching and meeting the needs of their entire classrooms.

Meeting the “Gifted and Talented”: No Nigerians Here!

Finally, I met the “Gifted and Talented” aka G&T. I am still questioning what that means. When my son was in Kindergarten, he got tested for inclusion in “Gifted and Talented”. I received feedback from his Guidance Counsellor that his scores were way above expectations; should I say, outstanding!  He still gets plenty of those outstanding reviews, including from the most recent reading seminar organized for parents at his school. I was a very proud momma.

Yet, as his major teacher, of course according to me (he would vehemently insist his school teachers as his main/all-knowing teachers), I am always demanding more from him. I call him out when he slacks, and engage him with more learning. To me, he is not doing great because he is G&T, but because he is exposed to plenty of learning resources and the support of his dedicated mother and teacher. True, I am highly tickled by his reasoning, many times, his wits and comprehension. Maybe he is quicker to learn [than others of his age], I do not know. What I know is, he reads fluently for his age, because I have exposed him to books since before he was born, and we have read on since then.

Then I met the G&T, who are not related to me. They were also much older than my own. I am sorry to say that the two hours I spent with me, nothing about them sparked me as “Gifted and Talented”,. I saw a kids enjoying doing things other children do, like building cars, bridges, playing with legos, making stuff and rolling on a ball. I talked to kids who seemed to enjoy what they were doing, some with hands-on engagement, while others contributing verbal ideas.

I could not stuck away that miseducation I have regurgitated for generations since I began learning in the world I live, that “all smart people are white; all white people are smart.” I was surprised to learn that plenty of the G&T had, what we call in America “Hispanic Names”. They were children of immigrants from South America, two with parents from Colombia.

One told me visibly terrified, “My father was born in New York but grew up in Colombia. His mother took him back and left him there!” I explained that, sometimes parents have to make difficult choices to raise their children. For a single mother, which I learned her grandmother was, it can be difficult raising a child in New York without family support. Yet, her family in Colombia could easily help out.

Another myth buster – Not all G&T are children from rich and wealthy homes. Some are children of truck drivers, such as Aei. Another told me s/he lives in a single parent household. What is true, though, the “nerdy” stereotype was there. I could relate to those kids from among my school circles. I know exactly kids like them.

Sadly, there were no Blacks among the G&T kids I met. Yes, it does matter; here in America, race is one of our greatest preoccupations. My conclusion was, there were no Nigerians in the district! (smile:). If we go by the ‘great discovery’ of The Triple Package, the one Black group profile among the “super powerful/highly successful cultural groups” in America is Nigerians. Add to that, pretty much every story featured in the media about a black genius nowadays seems to have Nigerians roots. Not in this district, though!

Especially, surprising since there is a significant number of black kids in this particular location compared to other schools in the same district. Should we really care? Does it really matter, you may ask? Of course it does; just like having a G&T kid whose father is a truck driver, or the immigrant from Colombia, so should there be a Black G&T. It is inspirational, and these kids should have an avenue to talk to their classmates about the kind of activities they are engaged in or what makes them academically “different” from others.

While I am not totally blown away, yet by the group of G&T I encountered, I enjoyed supervising them as they worked on their projects for a regional STEM competition. More exciting because they were working with Legos, one of my son’s favorite play-toys! I told them, he would be thrilled to watch them build stuff. They suggest I should bring him to their STEM fair, so he can see their final products and much more from other competitors. Another thought crossed my mind, LegoLand Discovery! Thereafter, I can get him bumped him up from 1st Grade straight to 3rd Grade G&T class! 😉

Surviving a 4th Grade Class!

Whoever coined the phrase, Never say Never”? Google tells me this phrase was first recorded in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, 1837.

Still, have a beer on me, and pass on the check! I am a living testimony of my contradictions!

Once upon a moon, I said, I will never teach elementary school! Did I tell you that, already? Well, I was comfortable with my college, graduate school and adult students. I did not even want to try High School; I imagined all those kids would not take me seriously, ‘hit’ on me or play foolery with me. I imagine them trying to give me a run for my investment in their learning. I did not want to test humiliation.

I swore off Elementary School, as well; I wanted no more responsibility with little ones ever again! Don’t get me wrong, I grew up around little children and did a ton of babysitting for my family. As the last-born girl in my family, I was still young when my siblings had babies. Being a socio-culturally grounded girl, I did not have the luxury of saying no to babysitting for my family. I invested fully in my little nieces and nephews. Yes! I cried whenever my niece cried, played with those little munchkins, and entertained them lavishly. I had my fair share of ‘babysitting’, to blissful satisfaction, never again clamored or desired!

Well, that was before I birthed my own, and all the sworn off ’No more babysitting’ flew right out through the window! As a parent, I embraced my new responsibilities as smoothly as I did for my siblings. I learned anew the meaning of taking care of children, more than I did before. Soon I realized that, while I could bail out on my siblings, I did not have the same with my own. Fortunately, the experience raising my child stimulated my eagerness to learn more about Early Childhood and Elementary Education. It sparked my interest in entering the classrooms to learn how children learn, and to augment my own knowledge and expertise.

Recently, I began teaching in the Elementary School Classrooms in my school district. I started out with pre-K, K and Special Needs classrooms, and have since upgraded to higher levels. I am really enjoying the experience as “Commander in Chief” of an elementary school classroom.  I have since gained a new-found appreciation for teachers, teaching and young learners.

Last week was my first experience as a Sole Substitute Teacher in 4th Grade. All my full fears and anxieties were put to rest, because the kids were not as terrible as I had imagined; they were just being kids. I am thankful for the experience of parenting my son, because it has given me a lot of perseverance, education and new perspective on children’s education and development.

As a Substitute Teacher, I had to follow the class teacher’s schedule. Still, I found an opportunity to engage the kids in learning about myself. I was excited to find kids open and friendly to their ’strange teacher’, especially in our America of “Do not Smile with Strangers”. One of the kids told me she is on the same school bus with my son, and had seen me at the bus stop. The other kid said his brother was my son’s best friend in Kindergarten! Awesomeness!

To break the ice, I asked them, if they could guess where I was from? Many guessed all the countries associated with majority black immigrants to the United States: Caribbean, Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Africa, and surprisingly Kenya and South Africa.

When I asked them if they thought I was from London, almost everyone said “No”. Why? “You have an accent?” So, I asked, “Do you think people in America have an accent?”, Some said no. Then I asked, “Do people from Pennsylvania speak the same as people from New York or Georgia, Tennessee or California? Then they began to engage with the question about “accents”, acknowledged that even Americans have accents, and different parts of America have different accents.  One said, “People in Tennessee speak like country.”

I told them I was from Uganda, but literally none had heard of Uganda. Except one girl who said, she watched on Disney TV show called “Jessie”, with a character from Uganda. The one who guessed Kenya said, it was because President Obama’s father was from Kenya. [Impressive!]

I then asked, if any had parents born outside the United States, which was easier understood than asking them, “who had foreign-born parents]. A couple of hands went up, with parents from: Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, Albania, and two Africa. While everyone else said the specific countries where their foreign-born parents came from, the ones with “African parentage” did not have a clue about the specific countries! When probed further, they didn’t seem to have taken an interest in finding out their parent(s) country of origin! I gave the kids a lesson that Africa is a big continent with more than 50 countries, just like the 50 united states, a shocker to many!

Overall, it was a great classroom experience! I managed an entire day with 4th graders with no major incidents. They were eager to help, some more than others, and eager to learn and participate in classroom activities. They were just young kids, like my six year old. They helped with the schedule, especially classroom recess and play activities. I even had the chance of engaging in more responsibilities outside the classroom, including managing the kids at fire drill and taking them to gym class. Let’s do it again!