Writing About Teaching (Again!) — and When Superheroes Have a Villain Named Lester

A photograph taken at the intersection of E 183rd Street and Jerome Avenue by the IRT Jerome Avenue Elevated Line That Carries the 4 trains
Jerome Avenue has its heroes.
Teaching kids in the Bronx at the Francis Martin branch of the New York Public Library, I learn a little bit about superheroes and us as a class brainstorm some ideas on how to identify and fix problems in the neighborhood:

Writing about teaching is a go-to blog post idea. When I am teaching, I notice human behavior in a way that I do not notice outside of the classroom. That's why the classroom is great fodder for something to write about on a blog.

Teaching is about being aware. I know this to be true. As someone who is characteristically blissfully unaware, when I train myself to become aware I notice phenomena that had previously railroaded me.

One thing I noticed is that in a classroom signs are everywhere. You just have to open your eyes. I think the reason kids hate teachers who only sit at their desks and distribute homework from their high chair is that these teachers are unaware.

A teacher has to be engaged. And this does not just mean knowing the lesson. Frankly, anyone can teach a lesson. I know this from experience. But if I am not aware when I am teaching a lesson — I am just mimicking a rubric. It's no fun.

I work part-time at the public library. They have this awesome program that gives kids a place to learn fun things after school. Basically, I am a tutor — and people may say, a glorified babysitter. I am woefully underpaid in this job — which has prompted me to garner insights from my daily interactions to cover up the resentment I have for my abysmal pay. 

There is a strategy in being over-zealous in an underpaid job. Because in an underpaid job there is no risk in just sitting on your butt. But when you put you all into it — the results are surprising.

Like I said. I am often unaware. Don't ask me what I wore yesterday and I may tell you it's Tuesday when it is in fact Friday.

But breaking out of the miasma of my own unawareness, engaging the students who come to the library to learn is a beneficial shock to my system.

This week I learned that boys are very protective of their mothers. One kid said, "Don't flirt," when he overheard me bantering with his mother. And oh. Kids have fashion sense. I love it. Also, when you ask a question to elementary school kids, they will unhesitatingly give you a glorious answer. We were talking about heroes. We had the kids seated on the carpet. We had just discussed superhero powers. What makes a superhero. One kid said, "flying." One kid suggested he would take his truncheon and knock a "bad guy" over the head with it. I said, "If you were a superhero who would be your arch-nemesis?" One brazen little girl said, "Lester!" And then one girl said, "The devil!" And then we decided that a good villain duo would be Lester and the Devil. When they went to create their own superheroes I could not help but notice that every single kid had chosen Lester as his or her villain of choice. And we had like thirty-five kids. However, I think one first-grader had decided that he was the Flash and his sidekick was Flash, Jr. he was going to protect Burnside (the neighborhood in the Bronx where I work) with a billy stick.

One second grade girl said she wanted a superhero who could save all the injured and abused pets she noticed walking underneath the elevated tracks where the 4 train rushes over Jerome Avenue. She decided (with the help of another second grader) that she would be "Pet Girl" and her sidekick would be Catwoman. And they both would battle against pet abusers (a collective villain!). It was trenchant, powerful, and I really felt rallied by her presentation. She got up in front of all the kids in the library and told them about her plan to solve this very serious issue plaguing our neighborhood.

To be honest: I am glad we were all aware (me included). Because I do not think we could have had a more engaging lesson.

Image Source: munimeter

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