The cliche is wrong — you absolutely should work with children.
W.C. Fields. You might not have heard of him before, but you have undoubtedly heard the quote "never work with children or animals", to which he is credited as author. A shame really that this quote became the one to cement its place in cliche lexicon when he is also credited with, "I'm beginning to understand those animals you read about, where the mother has to hide the young so the father won't eat them".
My own great-grandfather was revered (or reviled, age dependent) for saying "always give a child a clip on the ear when they walk past you, because they are either going to or coming from trouble".
The examples could go on endlessly. Young 'uns don't get an even break when it comes to playful humour, and fair enough too - haven't we all met some snotty little toerags before.
But what I wanted to say was that what children lack in table manners, basic hygiene, or productivity and manhours if that's your thing, they certainly make up for in entertainment value.
Last week I gave speeches at almost every school on the West Coast of the South Island. No, this doesn't mean particularly many schools. Nor that many students. But just enough children, of just the right age, to rile them up with jokes and stories and scars before driving away and leaving the teachers to dismantle the teetering tower of screaming, sneezing, yelling, hyperventilating, prepubescent energy you have constructed over the past 40 minutes.
Fields was wrong - you absolutely should work with children. Speaking to primary and intermediate school students is to public speaking what performing to a packed-out Times Square on New Year's Eve must be to a musician. The crowd is willing and primed to explode, it's high on the infinite energy of youth. Best of all, even if its members are not captivated, they are captive.
They are undoubtedly transfixed, however. I had a student the other morning pass out during a deliberately grisly description of a medical procedure I had undergone. Am I proud of that? Well, would it be wrong to be? If so, perhaps you could say I was relieved to hear that I can clearly keep a room of 10-year-old kids listening for longer than I would have listened to a speaker when I was the same age.
I was not there to make children pass out- there's no money in it. I was there to teach children the kind of life lessons people assume you receive as the prize for surviving cancer. As I told the children, I felt a great deal less qualified than their parents or grandparents to pass on anything that could be interpreted as life advice - they got something of a disclaimer, similar to the one the bank plays you on the phone about not taking investment advice as being solid.
I've barely made it out of the classroom they sit in. However, I wouldn't be a 21-year-old guy if not knowing what I'm doing were to stop me from having a go at something.
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I told them about three fears I had at their age which I no longer had. Fears which had held me back in life and served no purpose other than to blunt my sword and dim my candle.
The first was the fear of other people's opinions. I was an insecure, self-conscious child and teenager, as are most I suppose. It warped my decisions and pushed me through life with an unevenly applied force, propelling me undoubtedly, but shifting my course in undesirable and unpredictable ways, like being given a push start on a bicycle by three people running at different speeds. Focus instead on following strong morals and remaining humble, I told them, and you have no need to fear what other people think of you.
The second fear was the fear of small things in life - sweating the small stuff. I was a worrier as a child - homework, friendships, sports, anything which had a drop of even half-decent worry in it I would wring out and consume.
I glossed over this one a little - with younger kids who haven't yet grown an attention span, I speak in a rhythm of jokes and asking questions to the audience, and then periods of seriousness, before more entertainment to draw them back in. We were now a few minutes into seriousness and ceiling tiles were beginning to be counted. I told the kids there were bigger things to spend your focus on than the many small things that may come up in any given day.
The final fear was the fear of the future. It seems a shame for children to be afraid of all that is to come, both good and bad, but they often are. Perhaps rightly so - at the age of 10, if you had of been privy to an understanding of the amount of suffering you have undoubtedly been through at whatever age you are reading this now, you would have quivered like a ruler twanged against the edge of a desk.
Then again, perhaps that is a reason to not worry - adversity is inevitable, all that defines your life is not your adversity but rather your resilience. We are still here today. So I told the children this.
Any questions class, before I move on to talking about medical procedures again, playing ten-pin bowling with you and your classmates? A lone hand raises.
"When you said the fear of small things, did you mean like if an earwig climbs into your ear while you're asleep?"
No kid, that's one fear we should all have. Can't help you with that one sorry.