“So what’s your favorite grade level to present to?” We’re often asked this question, but because we don’t have a favorite grade level, we never have an answer.
Instead, we have discovered that any age level, any grade, can harbor students eager to participate in learning. The secret ingredient is their teacher.
Passion and Attention
If a teacher has passion and has prepared the students with reading materials and other stimulating resources, the class will likely be “pumped” for learning and participation. If the teacher pays attention to our presentation along with the students, the students have a good chance of paying attention as well. If the teacher requires respect and good behavior, generally the students will oblige.
So much depends upon the teacher that we are willing to present to just about any grade level in the hopes that the teacher has prepared her/his students. Preparation helps the students understand what the presentation is about, and it gives them background to ask and answer questions. But preparation is not the only necessary ingredient. It helps, too, if the teacher is attentive and sets a good example for the students. It also helps if the teacher acts as the disciplinarian.
We have occasionally presented to classes where teachers seem to feel it’s free time for them and we are the babysitters. They may be more disruptive than their students. Some grade papers, some talk with others, some busy themselves slamming file cabinet drawers and rearranging their desks and boards. One teacher even called students one at a time to her desk for a conference in the middle of our presentation.
A few teachers have neglected their responsibility to discipline and allowed that task to fall on us. Once, when I finally asked a teacher if he could help control his class, he appeared shocked. “Excuuuuse me?!” he demanded, while not lifting a finger in that direction.
On the other hand, more often we’ve returned year after year to present our program to the same teachers with different students, and many of these teachers pay attention as if they are witnessing the program for the first time. They also remind their students of proper behavior when guests are in their classroom, and they monitor the behavior as time goes by, relieving us of a duty that is not ours to assume.
Avoided Grade Level
However, one grade level we have avoided is preschool. We’ve always felt that this age group is too young to understand, too undisciplined to participate, and too distracted to pay attention. It just wouldn’t be worth our time and effort, we thought, to bother with children so young.
But that changed recently when we received an email from a preschool teacher. “Hello,” it began. “I am a preschool teacher with Valley School District and would love to have you come out and share your reptile presentation with our preschool children. I’m not even sure if this is a possibility but I sure hope it is. Thank you.”
Our first reaction was NO WAY! Why bother with a group of kids who concentrate on playtime and self-centered interests? Why bother with an age level that prefers telling their own stories to participating in a group discussion?
“Give it a try,” our retired teacher friends advised. “You might be surprised!”
Expecting the Worst
Expecting the worst, we nevertheless decided to follow their advice. At least we could say “We told you so!” after we’d suffered through the ordeal.
Dread built as the day approached to head to this school. We had rehearsed an abbreviated version of our presentation to accommodate an expected short attention span, not to mention to get it over with as soon as possible. The teacher greeted us warmly, however, and as we began setting up for the program, we listened to her as she gathered her young students around her on the floor and read their answers to snake questions that she had presented to them earlier.
“Wow!” I whispered to Chuck. “They seem to have actually been learning about reptiles and snakes. Let’s try to deliver the whole program and see what happens.”
The program went very well, the students were well prepared, and the teacher monitored behavior, which was virtually unneeded as the children eagerly participated in every aspect.
So hats off to all the good teachers who make such a difference in their students’ education!