How Best To Handle An Enthusiastic Counterpart
June 12, 2018 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I've been rangled into teaching a summer program with an organization I volunteer with. It's a great program and I'm looking forward to it. I've been brought in to help guide/mentor an 18 year old girl that wants to take this on, but it's a lot for someone that young to handle. I'm trying to explain some places her expectations are off and trying to get her to focus her energy.

So it's a non profit and we are definitely under supported, but I've taken it on and I'm going to do my best. The program is an hour once a week right before lunch. The idea is we take kids into a teaching garden and they'll grow some veggies and we'll do taste tests of different foods. The goal is to get kids comfortable with healthy foods they might not see at home. The kids will be in between 5 and 13, but most will be 8 to 11.

We planned our first class and my partner on this has ideas that are WAY too complicated. She wants to talk about food politics. She wants to talk about race. She wants to make jambalaya. We have an hour, you guys. She wants to take them on basically an international food tour. None of these ideas are terrible from an intention standpoint, but it's way beyond our mandate. Also, if I brought my kids (I don't have kids) to a summer camp about being outside and I found out they were pushing what I perceived as a political agenda without my knowledge, I'd be pretty ticked off.

So I guess I have two problems. I need my new buddy to understand what's developmentally appropriate for an 8 year old to understand. I need her to understand that just because they talk like her doesn't mean they understand things the way she does. I'm looking for easy, simple guidelines to explain where kids are mentally because I think that will help her tone it down. I think she just assumes they're like her but smaller. Everything I've found online is too high concept or written by people studying childhood development. I need something simple because I don't really want to be giving her homework.

Secondly I'd love any scripts or ways of handling her feelings respectfully but also getting her to understand this is not her personal platform. She has a strong tendency to over share. She's had a hard life. I want her to feel like she can share her truth. She also just graduated highschool and I want to warn her that going into work for the first time that employers are going to be a lot less patient with that truth. I know that sounds like I don't want her to share. I just don't want her to get hurt or in trouble.

Obviously if I'm out of line on any of this I want to know that too. Please help. I'm in way over my head. There are two people that work in this nonprofit that I can lean on, but practically this is on me.
posted by Bistyfrass to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
At 18, she doesn’t have experience with this kind of workplace except as a student. And you do. So first thing is, you need some boundaries here too. Your role is to put together a great program, and mentor this individual. So that’s what you need to do. What you don’t need to do, is be her best friend or never do anything that might cause her to feel something vaguely negative.

You also need some structure. People get wild brainstormy ideas when you do not give them enough structure to understand your program.

So, some scripts:
1.“With kids this age, it’s best if each session focuses on a single message, with some simple related activities. Let’s choose a message for each day and make sure the activity lines up.”
2. "With kids this age, we need to build in 5 minutes at the beginning and end for transition time, 10 minutes to talk about the theme, 20 minutes of planting/wedding/garden work, 10 minutes to cut open and talk about our vegetable and fruit of the day and for everyone to try it, 10 minutes to wrap and tidy up.”
3.“I love your passion and enthusiasm, and I know that will come through to make a statement to the kids. However, your idea to focus week 3 on political statement is probably not where we are with this program and as an organization. Let’s pick a theme together that relates.”

Also, you do need a simple lesson plan format for the day like #2 above.
Sample themes:
1. What’s a fruit? What’s a vegetable?
2. Where does food come from? (one brief political statement here)
3. Sun, rain, and soil: What makes vegetables grow?
4. Crazy vegetables you’ve never seen before (if you have budget to bring some in, or are planting some)
5. Tasting everything green
6. Tasting everything red
7. Tasting everything orange
8. Tastes from around the world
9. Harvest festival (this is where you eat everything you grew)
posted by warriorqueen at 10:35 AM on June 12, 2018 [12 favorites]

This is a good question.
Is it clear in her job description that she is your apprentice? Can you guide her toward asking you questions about her ideas, ones that could help to clarify whether or not the ideas will be successful ones? Can you share that in the past you have worked with (or been) someone as inexperienced and enthusiastic as her, and what was learned, from the experience? Could you carve out one slice of time, for her to do a not-too-controversial presentation that's her idea to come up with, and, maybe have her think up a way to evaluate it?
posted by Baeria at 11:37 AM on June 12, 2018

Can you emphasize that as volunteers, you represent the organization and its mission? Unless you're working for an explicitly political outfit (in which case, perhaps the parents are sending their kids to this program for the perspective your colleague wishes to share), her personal views can't be in the foreground -- much the same as with any other job she's going to hold.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:03 PM on June 12, 2018

I actually don’t see anything wrong with what this girl wants to do. This sounds like a nonprofit program for POC kids who are living in food deserts? 8 to 11 is absolutely old enough to learn about food politics and the history of healthy foods (like jambalaya) in ethnic communities. No offense to commenters upthread, but “tasting everything red” sounds more appropriate for a kindergarten group. “I need her to understand that just because they talk like her doesn’t mean they understand things the way she does.” I mean… I don’t want to come off as a condescending outsider here, but it sounds like this girl is from the same community as the kids your nonprofit serves, and I think you might want to try respecting her expectations for and faith in those kids and what they’re capable of understanding. They are already going to have ideas about race and the racialization of food politics because that’s part of their lives. I think it might be a really valuable experience for your volunteer, the kids in the program, and for you if you tried to make her goals happen instead of squashing them, but make “how can we do this with our resources” a big outlet for her energy, like asking her to look up reading material for 3rd to 5th graders and make a class plan tailored to them so it won’t go over their heads. Apologies if I’m making incorrect assumptions here, but it sounds like there are some elements of race/cultural clash going into your not quite knowing how to deal with her, and I think figuring out how to work through that on your end might be a good, necessary experience for you going forward.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:54 PM on June 12, 2018 [13 favorites]

oh yeah, and for script about professionalism, I would honestly find friends or colleagues or adults from her background who can talk to either you or her about code switching for the professional/corporate world. That one is a really heavy and fraught topic and if you’re aware enough to know that you’re in over your head, I would go get some back up before proceeding with this kind of thing with a young person.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:05 PM on June 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

The girl has good ideas. (and yeah, no offence but warriorqueen's proposed curriculum sounds like it's meant for kindergarteners...) I think most kids in the 8-11 age group would feel patronized (or unchallenged) if they had to sit through something like "what's a fruit" and "tasting everything green". As kids around that age (about 9+), my classmates and I learned about politics, sociological ideas, urban infrastructure planning, basic economic principles for developing countries etc. It was interesting! I know little kids (~5 year olds) that enjoy having Wikipedia articles read aloud (and explained). I guess what I'm saying is - do not underestimate the depth and breadth of knowledge that kids can learn and absorb, especially if the content is delivered in the right way.

My friend actually runs a similar nature-based program for kids (for a slightly younger age group). This girl sounds like someone my friend would be excited to employ. She has great ideas; I think a good employer/supervisor would try to see how those ideas can be incorporated, structured and delivered within the parameters of the program. (Or sometimes, if those ideas are good enough and if they can be translated into a good plan - why not see what else can be done to perhaps shift those parameters in future and make that plan a reality, etc.)
posted by aielen at 6:28 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

It might be pitched young but in one hour a week at a day camp I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of that done. But if you do, definitely share the curriculum.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:59 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do you know any kids she can "borrow" for an afternoon and try her lessons out on? That might help her figure out the limits of their understanding. With the professionalism/diplomacy issue, maybe try framing it as a communication tactic: "I love your ideas. Let's talk about how I pitch plans in the workplace, where I focus on the good done for the organization, which some people find more persuasive than personal statements." Walk her through your tactics and strategies that you've found effective.
posted by storytam at 8:52 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

The lesson plan I was given definitely used warriorqueen's ideas. Personally, at ten I would have been bored out of my mind.
For clarification, when I said"they talk like her" I wasn't trying to say they're all POC in a coded way. It's true that some are, but the kids we are teaching will mostly be white and Nepali. She is not from their neighborhood or background. My bigger concern is her talking over their heads. I've seen her talk to 14 year olds and they just roll their eyes at her, because she's talking about things they find boring. I was worried with the age difference, that might be exacerbated.
I don't think most of that is relevant though. This is going to be a learning experience for all of us. My plan is to go with "What are you trying to get across this lesson?" and whatever it is, I'll try to see what we can put together for an hour. If anyone has any more ideas, please keep them coming.
posted by Bistyfrass at 7:13 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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