Teraji: Curiosity can’t kill these big cats

Lions line the walls, no lyin’! The artwork also celebrates the reading contest at Eliot, in which students are challenged to read 10,000 words.  

This past month Eliot Elementary School on the eastside of Gilroy has been celebrating “Career Month.” I had a great time visiting as a guest speaker on the topic of writing. I was reminded of the TV show, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” as I interacted with the fifth-grade class.
They were so interesting, inquisitive and asked better questions than I’ve ever been asked by an adult audience. One young girl, who said she was a Puma Indian from Ukiah, asked so many good questions with her clipboard in hand that I told her she is ready to be a reporter.
When I asked what they want to be when they grow up, one girl raised her hand and said with great conviction that she plans to be a cop. I looked at her and I could already visualize her in full uniform walking the beat on a busy metropolitan street one day.
I talked about how there are many professions that students at this age have not yet been exposed to, and how many opportunities only open up if one continues their education. The students giggled when I asked, “Did you know there are hot air balloon inspectors? I just met one.”
A profession where demand is growing: telephone translator. If a hospital needs help with a patient who speaks a foreign language, they can now call a translator, so doctor and patient can communicate via conference call.
Students asked what the most popular writing topics are, and when I told them that genealogy is one of the hottest topics with readers, one obviously bright young lady indicated to me with a gleam in her eye that she has a “very interesting ancestor” in her family tree.    
I asked her who it was, but she said she could not say in front of the class. I asked, “Will you tell me later one-on-one?” and she smiled mysteriously and said she “might.” She took down my phone number.
I spoke to three classes of fifth-graders, and some fourth-graders joined us as well – so I spoke to more than 100 children altogether, which surprised me!
At first I was nervous; it’s been a long time since I’ve been back in the fifth-grade. All those old feelings of anxiety flooded back that I used to have when I had to go up in front of the classroom as a kid with everyone looking at me. I started to sweat.
Public speaking is the fear that more people have in common than any other fear, some even ranking it higher in surveys than the fear of death. But when the Eliot students began asking me such insightful questions, and I saw that they were really interested in learning, I began to relax.
They asked, “Does your writing go straight into the paper, or does somebody check your work?” So that opened up a discussion about what editors are and how they decide the final version of the article for the paper. Here’s a shout out to my editor: “Hi there, Lindsay!”
“What’s your favorite story that you’ve ever written?” one young man asked.
I described an article that “went viral,” meaning it traveled so quickly after being published that it was reprinted in other publications and on websites overnight, traveling across the U.S. and even to other countries, such as Egypt. I didn’t know if the students would grasp the concept of writing going viral on the Internet, but they are so savvy that they understood what I meant immediately.
After the talk with the kids, I was given a wonderful tour of the entire school by 5th-grade student mom Louise Shields. The tour included the chance to view student artwork, and the cafeteria had an incredible installation of collage art, each collage reflecting a different theme using materials like beads, bottle caps, feathers, coins and seashells. My favorite artwork depicted the school mascot in a large display of lions lining the halls. The students painted and constructed every possible kind of lion, including my favorite, a green lion.
Fifth-grade instructors Ms. Tobias and Ms. Davis created the “Career Month” plans and arranged for all the speakers. I also enjoyed speaking to Mr. Davis’ class as well; they were a very engaging and interactive audience. I was fortunate to be included in the line-up of speakers from other professions, such as a doctor, social worker, athletic coach and professional soccer player.
Hopefully, through the education of teachers like these, students will be encouraged to discover what they will enjoy doing that can benefit others, and to explore what future opportunities might be out there for each one of them in a world of unlimited possibilities.       

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