“Have one student learn something today” was the thought that continued to run through my head as I headed to Chestnut North Middle School. With a lesson plan in my see-through messenger bag, I was ready to make a difference. To present the students with the importance of planning for your future. To teach the students vital lessons about life that I wished I received at their age. My confidence and experience with managing individuals rewarded me with taking on one of the tougher classrooms. These students were a mix of 7th graders who have been in the system, have been sexually assaulted, who have a disability due to drug or alcohol exposure, and other special cases. I wasn’t afraid of who the students were or where they came from. I was afraid that maybe I wouldn’t be able to get through to them, that I wouldn’t be a strong enough teacher.
I came into the classroom where some were quietly staring at me and others we’re throwing f-bombs into the air. My tone of voice wasn’t going to be overly positive or filled with nerves, but calm and intelligent. It’s well known that volunteers would rather teach at schools with easygoing students, but students, especially from low-income families, need this type of information to become successful leaders of the world.
I started off with telling them a little bit about myself, where I’ve graduated from, what I do for work, and that I was volunteering for Junior Achievement. I also went into how I grew up in the same area as them and how I was told that I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that, but didn’t listen to the negativity to rise above the storm.
The first lesson, I asked the students if they knew the definition of a brand, logo, and tagline. They threw out examples of various logos and later on were able to identify each example logo I had on me (ex. Nike, McDonalds, Disney, Starbucks, etc.). I asked them if we can have a brand and most of them didn’t think we could, but I told them that we advertise ourselves every day. Many of them raised their hands about having a Facebook account where the words we write are a representation of ourselves to everyone on the internet. Also, the way we present ourselves in person towards others is showcasing our brand. Next, they had an on-hands activity of creating their own logos and explaining how their logo represented them. I told them mine was a tree because it stands strong on the ground, living each day through any storm. Also, the branches on a tree represented the lessons I have learned through life and the people who care about me. There were a lot of great logos that the students made with the bendable sticks provided, but two stuck out to me. One was of a man and the student described that the man was his uncle who had died in a car accident and he was the type of man that he wanted to grow up to be. Another was a heart with the letters “HL” next to it. The female student said it stood for “heartless” because of her most recent actions. I told her that everyone makes mistakes in life, no one is perfect. What’s important is that you learn from those mistakes, you will be a stronger person on the inside.
The second lesson delved into all of the job opportunities that are out there in our communities and all over the world. The students were first asked to go around the room where I taped posters of various careers and write down careers that they would be interested in or would like to research. After that, I asked the students to divide into groups of four and make a collage of the jobs they were interested in. I never had any knowledge of the history between some of the students, but I could see in some of their facial expressions that there were some differences. I had to pause the lesson to teach them about an important lesson in life: you aren’t always going to like who you work with, but in order to succeed, you need to drop the differences to get the job done. After some eye rolls and laughter, everyone got into groups to create a collage of the jobs they were interested in. There were many high-profile careers (NBA player & Professional Dancer were two common ones), but two careers chosen stood out to me. One gentleman chose Civil Engineer which was aspiring to see someone so young want to research that career path. Another student chose PCA because she wanted to take care of the elderly. The purpose of this lesson was to not only show them all of the opportunities out there, but that all careers are important. Not many people want to be a trash collector, but without that job field, we would have to go out of our way to get rid of our trash which still wouldn’t solve the problem of compacting it.
The third lesson was identifying the four factors when applying for a job: interest, job outlook, skills, and work environment. After we discussed those for a few minutes, I had the students focus on a specific job field where they would present to the class what they learned from information packets. This activity wasn’t as interesting to them, so I fit in one more lesson that will become important in their lives in a few more years: job interviews. I had some of the students volunteer to come up to the front of the classroom where one of them would be the interviewer while the other was the interviewee. They had fun with questioning each other on why they should work for various companies, but I also had them point out good and not so good things that were performed. Because when they hit age 16 (a couple places are still 14), they are eligible to join the workforce. The last thing I want to see for these students is living on the side of the road with nothing from a plethora of bad decisions.
I saw struggle in the faces of these students due to the lives they’ve had to live thus far, but I also saw a lot of promise. Yes, there were a few students that didn’t care at all about any of this, there were a few students that absorbed the information, and the rest we’re scattered in between. As I signed off on all of their completion certificates, I thought to myself “I hope someone learned something today.” One thing I knew for sure was that I learned something after today. I learned that there are many areas like this one that need help, they need someone to stand up and give them hope. Our community and our world as a whole need justice warriors. I’m ready to wear my armor and use my efforts on making this world a better place.
©Frank Anthony 2017