PUBLISHERS NOTEBOOK: Day at school brings rewards, but also causes exhaustion
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 5:31 AM
"You're going to be exhausted when 3:30 comes around," a teacher told me the evening before my scheduled volunteer role at the elementary school all day Friday.
I knew I was in for a different experience by spending the entire day at school, helping out staff with various duties, but I hadn't considered exhaustion as a result, despite the teacher's warning. After all, my idea of "fun" is going outside to run for a couple hours, something I had on the schedule for two days later in subzero conditions to raise money for breast cancer research.
Spending eight hours indoors with second graders in my granddaughter's grade seemed like it would be an easy day away from the newspaper office, which can also be exhausting in its own way, especially when problems crop up as they always do eventually.
It turns out the teacher was on to something. By afternoon, my feet were dragging and I was frequently looking for the nearest water fountain.
The frequent moving to different classrooms and other rooms along with the constant standing takes a different physical toll than running, which allows me to get into a rhythm, letting my mind drift. But, the exhaustion was also from mental fatigue as there is a constant stream of stimuli during the school day.
Second graders aren't exactly intellectually challenging, although I was surprised at the complexity of the questions in the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) standardized testing that I observed when one of the classrooms was in the computer lab for their reading tests. However, they can be mentally challenging as their individual needs multiplied times more than 20 can wear a person down.
Some are high maintenance, needed constant attention, while some who don't seek any attention can be just as worrisome because they raise concerns if they are engaged in the education offered to them.
I was volunteering through a program in which fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers, uncles and other father figures volunteer to serve at least one day a year in a variety of school activities. The male role model involvement program is an initiative of the National Center for Fathering.
Not all schools in the area have this program, but there are plenty of opportunities for males to become involved in the classroom.
The goal isn't necessarily to help teachers or other school staff do their job. Instead, the main purpose is to provide positive male role models for students, demonstrating by their presence that education is important.
I'm not sure if I fulfilled that goal as it didn't seem that I made much of an impact on the young children. However, I should note that I wrote a column about how the life of federal judge Donovan Frank was shaped while growing up by people in the community without him knowing it at the time. So, perhaps I did help some child with my presence even if he or she doesn't realize it now.
Still, a great side benefit is that the program provides great insight for adults into how schools operate. I have a better understanding of how difficult it is for a teacher to manage 20+ 7- and 8-year-olds while also trying to get them to learn. I also understand now why at conferences a teacher may not know every single thing about a child, something we may expect, as parents have just one child or a few children to track.
It was also interesting to see the variety of learning these young students do. Sometimes it appears to be controlled chaos, but they often are soaking in knowledge, whether it is exploring science through a hands-on activity or learning about countries for the school Olympics ceremony.
Even playtime had rewards for the students. Of most interest was the complex maze of dominoes students in one classroom set up. The teacher said they knock them all down at the end of the recess time, but remember from their mistakes what they need to do to progress to more intricate formations the next day. The one I saw went up steps and had several forks that allowed the progression to go in more than one direction.
Although I missed an entire day of work and wondered if I made any impact on students, it was a rewarding experience. The smile on my granddaughter's face in the photo taken at the start of the day says it all.
Following my visit to the school, I came back to the office to hundreds of emails in my inbox, a few papers stacked on my chair and a problem with our computer network.
Yes, the newspaper industry can be stressful with the constant deadlines and variety of issues that confront us. However, I could go through those emails, papers and other issues with my feet propped up in a quiet room. The ones that are screaming for attention, I could put to the side to deal with later. And the annoying ones that I don't want to deal with at all, I could delete or throw in the trash.
At school, the feet never go up, seldom is it truly quiet or are you ever alone, and there is no such option as "later" or "delete" for those things that scream for your attention. Just thinking about it now makes me exhausted.