Kavita Jethwa is a manager at Rothstein Kass, New York and specializes in Alternative Investments audits. She is also a Citizen Teacher with Citizen Schools New York. When I was younger I always thought I would be a kindergarten teacher, but my fascination with numbers and an accounting college course steered me down a different path. So when a colleague told me about Citizen Schools, my interest was peaked. Upon reading about their efforts to expose students, or scholars as we refer to them, in low performing schools to various careers and mentors, I thought to myself, “Here is my chance to see what that life would have been like”. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce children to the magic of numbers through our ten week “Stock Market Game” apprenticeship.
As an instructor of internal training courses at work, I had an inkling of the challenges I would face. But training twenty-somethings is quite different from teaching middle school scholars. More than anything I was surprised by how difficult it is to maintain their focus. The stock market isn’t the most exciting topic for them, and to make the information appealing was quite a challenge.
My skills of organizing and planning were put to the test to create engaging materials for the scholars. My team and I had this brilliant plan to prepare worksheets that the scholars could complete during each lesson to help them grasp the various concepts. Much to our dismay, middle school scholars do not consider worksheets an interesting learning tool. With the help of our Team Leader, a Citizen Schools staff member who supported us in the classroom, we decided to split the scholars into small groups and have them partake in interactive group discussions and activities. This allowed us to provide the scholars with more individualized attention and conduct our class more effectively.
Despite all the challenges, there were some really rewarding moments as well. We were impressed with the scholars’ degree of knowledge at such a young age. For example, as part of the stock market game, each of the scholars chose two companies for their group to “invest in” and one of the scholars picked Disney. When asked to justify, he said, “They just bought Lucas films, they are going to be making Star Wars movies and making more money." For an eleven year old to put two and two together and understand the impact of such a transaction is really intuitive.
Another inspiring moment revolves around an exceptionally shy girl in our class who preferred to be a fly on the wall. For the final presentation, the WOW!, she wanted to stay in the background filming the event to avoid speaking in front of people. After we encouraged her, she agreed to present, but was so nervous and on the verge of tears. However the minute she started talking, we realized that she had not only absorbed the concepts, but had broken through the fear of public speaking. Being a part of that breakthrough is an experience you can't get anywhere else. These two remarkable kids had absorbed the difficult concepts we had been teaching and in the process taught us not to underestimate anyone.
After ten weeks of teaching, I now understand that patience is an extremely important trait when you are training people on a day to day basis. We have to understand other people’s needs, and be adaptable as teachers. Because ultimately it’s not what we want, it’s what the scholars want. The kids are brutally honest but it’s really refreshing. And if they don’t want to learn the way that we want to teach them, we need to change.
And at the end of it all, I would say to all prospective "Citizen Teachers" - be able to go with the flow and don’t get discouraged. Knowing you were able to impact even one scholar makes it all worth it. So stick with it!
I would definitely recommend signing up today and teaching an apprenticeship; there is nothing better than the gift of being given the opportunity to share what you know!