The Dangers of Volunteering

A few times a year, we do school-wide activities where every student participates in mixed groups. It’s fun, but a lot of prep! This year’s activity involved painting rocks, so we needed nearly 600 roughly palm sized rocks. Needless to say, the preparation and storage for this was daunting. When we realized we needed to move 6 large buckets full of rocks from the first to second floor and down a long hallway, I immediately volunteered my class.

The reason I volunteered? Steven.

Let me tell you about Steven. At 11 years old, he is 5’4″. His shoulders are wider than some of his peers standing side by side to each other. When he walked in the room on the first day, my first thought was “Is this someone’s Dad?” He is also an incredibly helpful kid, willing to volunteer for any job. Perfect for rock lugging.

Of course, I didn’t expect him to do it alone, but I figured other kids could handle it, so I asked for volunteers.

Some background about elementary students and volunteering: They will volunteer for anything. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you say “I need volunteers to”- every hand will go up. I’ve tried to get them to realize they should wait to hear what is being asked. Otherwise kids go on errands to find teachers they don’t know, in rooms they’ve never been to. I always tell them one of these days I’m going to ask for volunteers to clean the restrooms with their own personal toothbrushes. It never works.

So this time, I explained, “Don’t raise your hand until you hear what I’m asking, ok? I need volunteers-” Every hand went up. “Guys.” I said. “Listen. I need you to carry buckets of rocks, very heavy buckets, quite a long way. This is not a joke. It’s literally buckets of rocks.” All hands still up. “They’re heavy. Please don’t volunteer unless you know you can carry very heavy things!” All hands still up. Since we were doing morning work, I added another caveat. “And you can only volunteer if you’ve finished page 127.” A few hands went down, including Steven’s. “Except for you.” I told him quietly. “You can still volunteer.”

In the interest of fairness, equality, and hopefully teaching some a lesson in forethought, I picked a mix of gender, size, and strength. For 6 buckets, I sent 10 kids. Then I waited.

A few minutes later, a trio of girls walked back in to the room empty handed, shaking their heads. Next Ethan, one of my bigger, taller, but not quite Steven-sized boys walked in. Or rather, waddled in, carrying the bucket between his bowed legs and swaying side to side so he could move it. After he put it down outside the room, he went and laid on the rug with his eyes closed for several minutes, breathing heavily.

Next, two groups of two came back, each carrying a bucket between them. One group managed to carry it, the other was dragging it down the hall where it made a horrible scraping shriek on the linoleum.

Then Steven came in, walking with a normal stride, standing tall, a bucket in each hand, arms held up so the buckets swung at his side. Ethan raised a fist from where he lay on the rug. “All hail Steven.” He said weakly. Steven smiled shyly, then walked up to me.

“Um, Riya is still in the hall with her bucket. Can I go back to help?” He asked. “Riya has one bucket by herself?” I asked, alarmed. Riya is the tiniest person in the class, but also arguably the most stubborn. I didn’t even actually call on her when she volunteered, but apparently she went anyway. He nodded. “Yeah, why don’t you go back.”

“She won’t let you help her.” One of the girls who came back empty handed called. “We tried!” Steven shrugged and left anyway.

A few minutes later, he walked back, his arms literally full of rocks, more than half a bucket’s worth. He placed them in the other buckets, then turned to look back down the hall. In the distance, Riya appeared, tiny arms straining, a look of grim and slightly terrifying determination on her face as she dragged her bucket, now nearly empty, down the hall. “She wouldn’t give up her bucket.” Steven explained as I walked over to stand next to him. We watched as Riya finally made it to the door, and then silently walked into the room, head held high. “Good job Riya.” Steven told her. “I told you I could do it.” She answered.


Apple for the Teacher

Last week one of my girls handed me an apple when she walked in in the morning. “This is for you!” She told me. “Aw, thanks! Apple for the teacher!” She stared at me, then said “Yeah, I guess.” It was the same tone you would use if you gave your dentist a muffin and he or she exclaimed, “Aw! Muffin for the dentist!”

Basically, it made no sense to her. I explained the historical tradition of giving an apple to the teacher. “Why an apple?” She asked. I told her I didn’t really know. “Wouldn’t you be more excited about something with chocolate? You get REALLY excited when we give you cookies.” That’s true, I told her, but I appreciated the apple. “Oh, it was in the bottom of my bag, I was supposed to eat it yesterday and forgot. So I gave it to you.” It’s the thought that counts, I guess.

Last week was a good one for interesting teacher gifts. I was proudly presented with a dozen fresh eggs from a students chickens. I assume that when you know the chickens by name and frequently ask about how they are, you’re invested enough to reap the delicious benefits. I promised to take a moment of silence for Sunshine, who was eaten by a fox last month, anytime I made myself an omelette out of my eggy gifts.

I was also given a box of rocks. To be totally honest, I was loaned a box of rocks indefinitely, but that still counts. This might sound trite and adorable, but I was as excited as the owner of said box was. This little guy is a lot like I was at his age. We share a deep appreciation for things like interesting bugs, biographies of dead scientists, and, obviously, rocks. He lovingly went over every specimen, and where they are from. I have his solemn permission to teach a mini-lesson on density on rocks using his pumice. We’re kindred souls.

I receive interesting artwork pretty frequently. This weeks top contender was a picture of a 3 eyed dog who shoots lasers from one of his eyes- Not the extra one in the middle, as you might expect from an extra eye. “He shoots it from the one on the left.” I was told.

I’m not a big fan of apples, anyway.