Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Who's in charge? (situation is unclear)

et502's picture

Yesterday, the site supervisor was not at Wordsmiths. She had another commitment this entire week, so she’d emailed me and several other interns beforehand to let us know. In the email, Mariah had said that we should use the time-out discipline structure as needed, and had told us to call her if anything went awry.  Since I knew she’d given keys to other people, I assumed she had just included me on this list so that I’d be prepared for the situation.

When I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, there were 2 other interns there. They told me that they had been there on Monday and Tuesday as well. I suggested that we go outside first, since it was nice out; I remember thinking that, when I was there 2 weeks ago, it might have been night to get some of the kids’ energy out before making them sit down and do work. Both interns disagreed with me—they said that the kids had “gotten better” in the past weeks, and they wanted to stick to this routine.

In this situation, I felt that I was more like a “volunteer” than an “intern”—I definitely did not feel that I had the authority to make decisions that would affect the schedule. I wanted to, but deferred to the interns’ decision. However, I think that these other two girls were also unsure of their authority; they didn’t want to deviate from the normal programming, even if it could be a positive experiment. 

When the kids came in, I chatted with a few of them. Erica and Bianca both told me that they had finished PSSAs the day before, and that their teacher wanted to “go easy on them”; they were not going to have homework until the weekend. Bianca went on, complaining that Miss Mariah would always give them homework even if they didn’t have any, or make them write when they didn’t want to.

Again, in this moment, I wanted to suggest that we do something proactive/engaging/fun/kinesthetic—but each student was told to go upstairs to read, or stay downstairs to do homework. I went upstairs with some of the students to make sure they were reading.

Throughout the afternoon, the kids got increasingly edgy and restless—sometimes yelling at one another, running up and down the stairs, hitting each other, or intentionally knocking things over. Around 3:50, one of the kids asked when they would get to have recess. The interns told them, 5 PM. They said that if they didn’t have homework and had finished reading, the kids had to do an “educational game.” Some of them worked consistently. Most of them worked for a few minutes, then got distracted. One of the interns was texting on her phone. The other was chasing kids around. 1 volunteers was also texting. I heard the other volunteer yelling at a student. I sat with 2 or 3 girls and played "educational" boardgames.

In retrospect, I wish that we had talked a little more before the students came in. I still don’t think I could have asserted myself more in the situation; since the central authority/decision-maker was unclear, that position went to the more engaged of the two interns. I don’t know whether we can change the order of the program, but perhaps, next time, I’ll prepare a game that we can play inside that will use up some of the excess energy.