Tales From School: Drawn, Quartered, Nickeled, and Dimed

Another day, another tale from elementary school. As usual, all names changed.

In today’s Jewish Studies lesson, we talked about kehillah, or the concept of community. With the unusual amount of stress of the past week, I hadn’t been able to think of anything worthwhile to do today, but about an hour before class I was sitting on my couch, looking at the items on my coffee table when I came across my dish of spare change.

Then the idea came to me.

Fast forward an hour or two to school. We spent the first hour talking about what a community is, what it means to be a part of a community, and why community is important. At the start of the second hour of class, I asked them to name different members of the community. Early choices were money collector (for the poor), charity organizer, and event coordinator; all good ideas, but not exactly what I was going for. So then, I suggested, a town mayor, and along came suggestions of doctor, lawyer, dentist, fireman, and policeman. Then, Allison chimed in with “hairdresser,” which she wants to be when she grows up. I wrote it on the board, but in a separate column from the other jobs, explaining that hairdressing is a service and a luxury. Not all towns need or can afford to have a hairdresser, but a hairdresser can be a community member. Other people then chimed in with toy store owner, bookstore owner, restaurant owner, and musician. Back in the first column, we included construction worker, plumber, engineer, teacher, food seller and a few others. My co-worker Clara suggested truck driver, to transport goods in and out. I made a few final suggestions, with postal worker (in case our community has no Internet), garbage collector (somebody’s gotta take the trash out), and rabbi (because, Jewish.)

Then, I went over to my backpack and took out the dish of spare change that had been sitting on my coffee table earlier (I fished out all the pennies and foreign coins before class). I told the class that each of them (and Clara, my co-worker, who decided to play with us) would receive a coin. If they received a quarter, that would mean that they had a big job in the community, were important, were responsible for a lot of human lives. Students who got nickels would choose medium-size jobs, not too big or too small, but people who might be of value to the community. The dime would be the most difficult one: someone who is in the community but does not or cannot contribute as much as the other two.

The students closed their eyes and put their hands out, and I distributed the coins at random. Out of the group of 16, 4 ended up with quarters, 7 with nickels, and 5 with dimes. I told all the students with quarters to stand, and tell everyone what their role in the community would be. Shoshana wanted to be the community’s doctor; Mia, the nurse; William, the banker; and my co-worker Clara, as the teacher (creative choice there, partner.) Then, they sat down and the 7 nickel students stood up and chose roles. Jesse wanted to be a pilot, Tricia wanted to own a restaurant, of course, Allison wanted to be a hairdresser, and so on. Then, the 5 students with dimes stood up. Molly wanted to be a girl detective like Nancy Drew, which I thought was a good example; part of the purpose was to recognize that children can be part of the community too. Petunia wanted to be a rookie police officer, someone who was still in school. Pauline had trouble thinking of one, so I whispered in her ear “grandma,” and she announced to the rest of the class that she was going to be a grandma. The other kids laughed until I told them that just like kids, older people can be part of the community too, and made up a hypothetical situation; maybe Mia worked at the nursing home taking care of Grandma Pauline, but when Pauline was younger and still working, she was the nurse who delivered Mia! The class started understanding after that. Finally, David had trouble thinking of something, and someone suggested a student for the teacher to teach, which worked well.

Then, we sat back and looked at our community, comprised of the occupations written on the board. The class was proud of themselves, noting that they had a lot of different jobs and that it would be fun to be a part of this community. We had some time left, so I wanted to do a second round. This time around, 8 got quarters, 5 got nickels, and 3 got dimes. Shoshana got a quarter again, and even though I told her she could still be a doctor, she decided to go with mayor. Jesse chose doctor, and so on. Of the nickel group, both Molly and Mandy chose detectives, and then of the dimes, Petunia and Jillian chose girl detectives. So, this time around, we ended up with a few good choices, but 1/4 of the town was a detective. I brought up the fact that we had no one in the food industry, so Molly offered to be a detective and a food trader, and some others as well. And we had completely forgotten about the charity collector and event organizer from before. Some of the kids suggested that in addition to being a lawyer or an artist or a musician they could also organize charity work, which was a good idea.

My co-teacher was super impressed with this activity, and I didn’t think it was half-bad myself. Something to think about. What do you think?

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