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Lessons learned

Megan O'Neil | Monday, February 27, 2006

After three and a half years of class presentations and journalism interviews, a room full of elementary school kids shouldn’t have fazed me, right?

Nevertheless, I found myself quite nervous Thursday as I drove toward Nuner Primary Center in Mishawaka. My friend Becky, student teacher in a fourth grade classroom there, thought I would be a good addition to her lesson on newspapers. In other words, I was the guest expert.

Now, I would like you to stretch your memory back to your own elementary school days when there was a classroom visitor. Remember how wise that classroom visitor seemed? How professional? How … old?

I felt compelled to do my best to live up to this image. I even wore my most adult outfit: button-down shirt, wool slacks and heels, but I still felt I embodied none of the aforementioned characteristics. Instead, I felt like a stage actress with a tape recorder and notebook as props.

What I was most concerned about, however, was not seeming grown-up or impressive. I was terrified of being boring. I had an image of glazed-over eyes staring back at me, or worse yet, heads resting on desks. I didn’t want to be yet another reason why kids tell their parents their day at school was “fine.”

After the students filed in from lunch, settled in their chairs and turned expectantly to me, I launched into my “journalism is exciting” spiel. I told them all about working for The Observer, stalking sources around campus and laying out pages until God-awful hours of the morning.

After a few minutes I felt myself relax. Maybe I could teach them something interesting about the newspaper business. I certainly believed everything I was saying. Journalism is exciting, and the hard work is rewarding.

Further, I had forgotten about the hyperactive energy and the overactive curiosity of the average fourth-grader. After every sentence I uttered, hands shot up in response. Many of the questions were quite smart and made me consider things that I had not thought about in a long time.

Once or twice I called on students only to have them forget what they were going to say because they were so excited. Other times the response had absolutely nothing to do with the topic of conversation. A couple of the students had started their own newspaper and they provided me with a copy.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable afternoon. I got the chance to see my friend operate in her professional environment and to admire how hard she is working to engage her students every day. But the afternoon also served to remind why I am pursuing my chosen career path and gave me the opportunity to get excited about my future.