Six years ago, I wanted to go outside my own ego and improve the lives of children (as well as myself), so I volunteered to help kids with their homework at a multiracial East Village public school as an after-school woman presided.
I have a bit of a childish quality myself, and thought I could relate to these kids on that level, while also providing expert adult advice and information.
And at first things went great. A girl even voluntarily opened up to me about her insecurities and I consoled her and made her feel better about it.
I taught the kids animal sounds, helped them learn their studies, corrected their grammar, and managed to keep things fun and lively yet positive and educational.
I caught a couple of the kids making fun of me behind my back, but I chalked it up to childhood and didn’t let it bother me. Besides, I must seem a little strange at first sight.
What did bother me was the presiding lady’s attitude. She viewed me as an intrusion into her domain and hated the fact that I had connected with the kids, thereby usurping her power in her eyes.
And she reacted as such. She wouldn’t even say hello to me when I arrived every few days, and generally looked down at me as if I were a piece of utter garbage.
I wanted to scream, “I’m on TV! I have a weekly column! I am somebody! You should be thrilled I’m here! I can go a whole lot of other places and get treated like a god!” but I bit my tongue and suffered in silence, keeping my focus on the kids.
Once, when there was a holiday party at the school, I brought a nice box of cookies, which the woman promptly stashed into a closed cabinet so no one could get at it. She didn’t want me getting any kudos, or any more perceived power, out of these well-intentioned treats. Well, I pulled the cookies right back out and set them on the table, and they were instantly devoured and enjoyed.
But, as if I needed a whole other humbling, here’s the weirdest twist of all.
One day there was a recess in the schoolyard and the kids and I were all playing an incredibly fun game of tag. (Yes, a grown man was playing games with kids. Like I said, I wanted to break my barriers and explore other forms of connection. By the way, the lady was glaring in a corner, furious at the fun.)
And the kids suddenly gathered around me in a tight circle, held onto me in a way that hurt, and defiantly kept me locked in place. They had turned on me! To Sir With Love had suddenly become Lord of the Flies! Eight of them had cooked up a scheme to humiliate me by grabbing, pulling, kicking, and not letting me move.
And there was nothing I could do about it. I certainly couldn’t push them away–you don’t push a kid. I could only stand there in my martyrdom and wait for the horrible moment to end. When it finally did, I was in tears, and left, determined to never come back because what I’d sought as an uplifting experience had turned ugly and made me feel even worse than before. I’d thought my only enemy was that horrid lady, but the capricious kids–perhaps mirroring her disdain–had turned into bullies and ruined my playday.
Going back to school had literally become going back to school!
A sweet girl who I’d bonded with stopped me as I ran out of the yard. “Sorry,” she said. “I told them it was not a good idea.”
Anyway, think twice before you think working with kids is a Disney film.