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Whoa, Momma! It's Great American Teach-in time; a field trip chaperone reflects; fun for the kiddies

Parents, grandparents and community members will fill school classrooms on Thursday, Nov. 15, in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to share their work, hobbies and life experiences with students.

It's the Great American Teach-in, and it's a fun day for kids because it's a day filled with firefighters, dog trainers, cake decorators, wrestlers, basketball coaches and more.

They'll talk about what they do and how school got them there and share the components of their success. It's a good way to show kids where education can take you, but it's also a good way for parents to appreciate what teachers do.

The first time I did it a few years back, I came home with an even greater respect for teachers, if that's possible. First of all, it's hard to talk about anything for more than five minutes, so you need to be prepared. An easy out is to give them your story and then take questions. But be prepared for questions that have nothing to do with what you talked about.

I remember telling some third-graders about how I had to argue with a police detective to get my hands on a public record and finally had to threaten to call the newspaper's lawyer to get the report I wanted. A hand shot up. Oh great, I thought, he wants to know about the importance of fighting for the public's right to know.

"I saw a police officer on my way to school today."

Another hand shoots up.

"A policeman gave my dad a speeding ticket."

Another hand goes up.

"My dad says my mom drives too fast."

Ah, the respect I earned for journalists that day! Warm feeling indeed.

I have since learned the best way to keep it on the rails is to ask open-ended questions — What do you think a reporter does? Why is an editor important? — and get the kids to answer them instead of me babbling on about my job. One year I thought I was clever by bringing a box of St. Petersburg Times Gasparilla beads and tossing them to kids when they got an answer right. I then had to talk over the din of kids clinking the necklaces around and playing with them.

Note to self: Don't give out tchotchkes until you are done talking.

Here are some tips from education sources on a successful teach-in:

• Consider wearing attire appropriate to the occupation, hobby or other topic you plan to discuss.

• Keep the students' average attention spans in mind: 10 to 15 minutes for elementary grades, 20 to 30 minutes for secondary grades.

• When you arrive at the school, check in at the office to pick up your name tag. Someone will greet you and accompany or direct you to your classroom.

• If you plan to bring printed or audiovisual materials, check with the teacher or school teach-in coordinator in advance.

Heather Tempesta is a Brandon wife and mother of three kids, a 16-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. She balances a full-time job with support of youth football, cheerleading and high school football, all while serving as a part-time CFO, maid, chef, chauffeur and ATM. Here's another snapshot from her life that she recently shared.

I was asked to chaperone a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. Knowing that my days of being "allowed" to tag along are dwindling, I obliged.

I've done this enough times to know that these days rarely go as planned. It didn't take long to see this day was no exception. The buses were 45 minutes late. The kids noisily move about the room while a video that's failing to hold their attention plays in the background.

Meanwhile, the chaperones are asked to have a seat at an itty-bitty desk in an itty-bitty chair and relax with 18 excited 8- and 9-year-olds swooning around us.

Suddenly, I am amazed at the power that this young, childless — but 5 months pregnant — teacher has over them. She promptly wrangles them in like cattle and makes them sit still and listen.

Can I hire her?

With nothing better to do, I take a few minutes to look around the room at the learning material on the walls. I see a common theme with the posters. The topics are Interpret, Predict and Draw Conclusions.

Now, my overanalytical brain begins to ponder this.

Do they need to know this?

People usually give me a hard time about trying to dissect and infer the inflection of someone's tone. I've been less than accurate.

I honestly never understood why we do it. It's agony to mull over all of the possible scenarios and meanings and predict the next event. And by nature, people are not positive thinkers. We tend to err on the side of the worst-case scenario.

Sitting at this itty-bitty desk in the itty-bitty chair, it dawned on me: because we were taught to do it at a very young age.

At precisely the same moment my A-Ha moment occurred, the other chaperones began to rumble. They were bothered that they took time out of their busy schedules and the school wasn't respecting their time. They felt there wouldn't be ample time to explore anything at MOSI.

All I could see were kids with smiles on their faces, happy to have a free day. The children asked the adults what was wrong. They hadn't a clue.

The majority of these kids had yet to visit MOSI. They didn't see the entire museum, but they didn't know what they missed.

They ate lunch and viewed an IMAX movie. When it was time to leave, you couldn't find a disappointed kid.

In fact, it was the adults who spewed the most angst. It was a day of interpreting, drawing conclusions and predicting the next detail before we even left school.

They interpreted the poor punctuality as a disrespect of their time.

They predicted that the kids would suffer from not seeing everything at MOSI.

They drew a conclusion that the day was a waste and their behavior reflected it.

It's ironic that the older generation tends to call out the youth as being the problem. I think they come out just fine and we teach them everything we know and have come to dislike in ourselves and everyone else.

They're just doing as they're told, and shown, to do. I think it's time to show them something new. Because the ending to this story is quite predictable.

I hate to break it to you, but Christmas events are already popping up. On the bright side, they are fun and usually free. We also have some good fall festivals and lots of wallet-friendly options this week as you try to block the coming holiday season from your memory banks:

• We've barely had time to put away the plastic skeletons and vampire teeth and lo and behold Santa arrives at many of our local malls, and two of the most popular holiday events are getting under way this weekend. It's the first week for Disney's after-hours Christmas celebration, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This separate-ticket event has a Christmas parade, fireworks show, holiday characters and "snow" on Main Street. It's $53.95-$67.95 at Walt Disney World at 7 p.m. today and Monday. And if you're dreaming of a white Christmas, the ice sculptures and real snow in the 9-degree splendor of Ice! at Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando are as close as you'll get to a winter wonderland in Florida. It features 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures by artists from China and 40 tons of real snow creating a North Pole Carnival attraction with a Madagascar theme. It runs Saturday through Jan. 1. $22.99-$27.99, $20.99-$25.99 seniors, $13.99 ages 4-11, 3 and younger free. Gaylord Palms Resort, 6000 W Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee. (407) 586-2000.

• The Junior League of Tampa has a big weekend for bargain hunters and the passionate arts and crafts crowd with its annual Holiday Gift Market today, Saturday and Sunday at the Florida State Fairgrounds. More than 140 merchants from Tampa Bay and around the nation will be on hand. Special events include Breakfast With Santa, celebrity chef demos and a Man Cave. It runs 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $8 at the door, $6 for parking.

• This weekend's Pasco EcoFest is packed with activities for outdoor activists and nature lovers, with kayaking, bird-watching, hiking, riverboat rides, fishing, a swamp tromp, drum circles, an EcoMart, educational workshops and talks, pet adoption, a geocaching challenge, concerts and an art show. Activities take place in six different Pasco County parks and at various other locations. Check for a complete schedule of activities and their locations. Free from 4 to 10 p.m. today, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

• Rarely does an arts event offer something for everyone but the Eckerd College Art Celebration in St. Petersburg does just that on Saturday during an all-day celebration of the arts. A visual arts show, musical performances, poetry and fiction readings and Legally Blonde, The Musical will be on the campus, and it's all free. Students, faculty and staff have come together to present a rich selection of creativity that will tempt you to stay for the day on the college's lovely campus at 4200 54th Ave. S., St. Petersburg. The only event requiring tickets (though they're free) is Legally Blonde, which will be available throughout the day while they last. See for a schedule.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne writes for the parenting blog Whoa, Momma! at Follow the blog on Twitter: @WhoaMomma.

Whoa, Momma! It's Great American Teach-in time; a field trip chaperone reflects; fun for the kiddies 11/08/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 8, 2012 3:30am]
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