Monday, March 13 - Friday, March 17, Expo Elementary, 7.45 am - 2.50 pm, 35 hours (+ 10 hours commuting)
I wasn’t able to sleep much the night before, because I was so excited about my first day at Expo Elementary. Just the commuting there was going to take over an hour, my phone didn’t work and it had just snowed the day before, so I was worried that getting to the school at St. Paul would be easier said than done. I woke up at six in the morning and left my apartment at 6.30. The trip went surprisingly well, and I arrived at the school at 7.30. I started with getting my nametag from the main office, and then I went to stay in front of Ulla Tervo-Desnick’s classroom.
After a little while of waiting, Ulla came. We greeted each other and went to her classroom. The moment we stepped in, I noticed the ball-shaped chairs for the students. They were a donation from a parent, and a more ergonomic sitting choice. I later came to learn that the chairs weren’t the only donation, but the parents actually took turns donating light morning snacks for the kids and many of them also volunteered helping everyone in the classroom.
Me and Ulla talked to each other for a little while, and at 8.15 the students started flowing in. Ulla taught the first class so the kids were really young, only six to seven years old. Some of them came straight to me and asked who I was and what I was doing there, some of them whispered to each other excitedly with their eyes glued to me. It was great to see that my arrival had this sort of an impact.
As the classes started, Ulla instructed me to go ahead and help the students with their writing assignments. This is something that I actually continued doing throughout the day, as there were some students who were behind and/or had attention problems. I loved seeing what a variety of talents the class had, just the differences in their handwriting were incredible. Everyone had a unique touch to their work, and everyone was trying their hardest.
The day continued with a recess, then a little bit of math, then a longer recess and lunch (which was the time when me and Ulla also got to take a longer break), and after this there was a one more class with Ulla, then a class called GT (which was a class for “talented kids”, but at Expo all the kids get to take it). The last class of the day was just called “choice time”, this was when the kids just got to choose and work on whatever they wanted to, within boundaries of course. “Choice time” was clearly the class favorite.
Just the first day just made me realize how lucky I am just being able to spend this one week with this class. All the children just have really interesting little personalities, and I wish I could see what kind of adults they end up becoming. This experience proved even more that teaching is what I am meant to do. Yes, I still want to be a cartoonist, but that can be something I do on my free time and as a side job. More than anything, I want to be an elementary school teacher with my own class!
The following four days were full of adventure and learning. Day by day, I started becoming more and more familiar with the students and they with me. I felt really comfortable being a part of their classroom. As the students got better at math, reading and writing, I got better at teaching those things to them, and I didn’t really have much experience before.
All my days started with the long bus+lightrail+bus –ride and arriving to Expo at around 7.45. I started to really enjoy those long morning rides and mornings in general. Since before this my sleeping rhythm mostly consisted of going to bed late and waking up at noon. I also liked how every morning that I arrived at Expo I got to have a little bit of time to be by myself, and just sit in the beautifully morning-lit class-room waiting for everyone to come in. During these times I also worked on a small project that I started on my first day: coloring pictures. When some of the kids saw my sketchbook, they wanted me to draw something for them, and since it would have been unfair for me to draw for just a few of them, I decided to make coloring pictures for the whole class. Ulla liked the idea a lot as well, and by the end of the week there was seven different pictures. Since everyone knew me as the comic artist, I of course added in some speech balloons for people to write in as well. The end results were really cool! Some kids had wonderful color pallets and put all of their focus to the coloring part, while others were inspired by the speech balloons and filled them with delightfully witty dialogue. Sometimes I wondered if drawing the coloring pictures was more fun for me than the coloring was for the kids, but their excitement over my drawings was so immense that I didn’t have to wonder for long.
As I got to know the kids more, I learned about how treating them very individually was the key. Some of the kids had problems focusing on their school work, and Ulla soon showed me what methods were used to help them focus, and how sometimes if something was unbearably difficult, it was alright to just give up and let the kids move on. These kids were incredibly smart, but just had to be taught in a way that was a bit different from the norm.
Then there were some kids that just loved trying out their boundaries with me. This resulted in them being very clingy and forceful with me, and me being at a loss of what to do. There once was even a situation where Ulla was leading the whole class to another classroom on the other side of the school, I was taking care of the end of the line and one of the kids noticed this. She looked me in the eyes and asked if she could be the last in line with me and hold my hand. How could I have refused a cute kid like that? The moment I said “sure” and took her hand, a bunch of other kids in the line noticed and started asking me to hold their hands too. I tried to say no, but at this point it was difficult since I was already holding one of the kids’ hand. About five children ended up clinging onto me as we were falling behind the rest of the line. When the cluster of me and the kids finally reached Ulla’s end of the line, I looked at Ulla apologetically, and it took one strict order from her to get the kids off of me. I was at a loss for words: what authority! And despite the occasional strictness, the kids loved her! This moment made me admire Ulla as a teacher even more. A good elementary teacher is most of all a reasonable adult who takes care of the children by setting boundaries and goals for them and teaching them how to behave, but by also letting them be kids: play and have fun! This is what I also aspire to be some day.
Learning from Ulla was an amazing experience. Since she is also from Finland (though now has a dual citizenship), she could understand my point of view in a way that a fully American person probably never would. Her advice for me was incredibly valuable, since she knew what it was like to be a Finnish teacher immersed in American culture. Also just speaking Finnish with her was a fun way of having a secret language for talking about things that the kids shouldn’t hear.
When the week was coming to an end, I felt genuinely sad. I loved being at Expo, the children in Ulla’s class were wonderful, and there was so much more I could have learned from Ulla still… Luckily she said I can come back and help around in the classroom whenever I want to, which made me incredibly happy. I will also be teaching a class about comics there still, but that won’t be until after more than a week… I just miss everyone so much already…
Writing just a one journal entry of my whole experience at Expo, just doesn’t seem like enough, but I guess I’ll have to try and end somewhere (since I have so much other homework to finish).
The point is that I had a lot of fun, and being a teacher is the best thing ever! I really have to look into the possibilities of continuing my studies... Anyways, until next time people!