Day 6: Wednesday 24 July, 2019
Hannah Culkin, United States
During our orientation, one of the first things we learned about educating children is the utter importance of structure and routine in their lives. To simplify the logistics and proverbial “bureaucracy” of life leaves plenty of time and mental space for them to learn about the world in all its complex, visceral glory. As a result, flexibility is frequently required of the educators, including our cohort of volunteers, to maintain such stability on behalf of the children.
Ironically, if there were somehow a dictionary with my name defined in it, the entry would certainly not say “Hannah: flexible.” In fact, the word “flexible” would likely be listed under antonyms because I am a chronic planner. Before committing to an idea, I like to answer all of the basic questions we teach to children: who, what, when, where, and why? Perhaps my upbringing is to blame, or an inborn “Type A personality,” or simply my analytically-oriented approach to problem solving. I certainly do not know as this is a problem I have yet to analyze successfully. Regardless of its origin, I find that my extensive planning allows me to actively engage with the world in a more meaningful way, much like the role of the structure we strive to provide for our students.
All of this is to say that the past seven days of the Summer Volunteer Program have been an extended masterclass in flexibility for me, and I am extremely grateful. Between the anticipated administrative challenges and the inherent unpredictability of children, I am quickly learning to embrace variability. Some days my students will want to teach me all the colors in Arabic aloud, and some days they will want to color quietly at their desks. Some days I will be working in a partnership, and others I will be the only volunteer in the classroom. Some days an activity will go exactly as planned, and some (most) days I will have to spontaneously make changes to keep everyone engaged.
At our orientation, before we even discussed the necessity of routine, we established the purpose of this program: to provide a fun and educational experience for our students through whatever means possible. This is the case even if it means scrapping an entire lesson plan, or an entire day’s plans, because they are not fulfilling this purpose.
As the students are in the process of learning their own curriculum, I am still in the process of learning flexibility; however, even only three days in, I am more than willing to totally contradict my plans if it ultimately means that my students are happy. And that is certainly a skill worth learning.