My internship as an assistant teacher has been ongoing at a little place in Florham Park called TEKI, which stands for Technology, Education, Knowledge, Instruction.
The time of the year I joined the TEKI crew was interesting, as even though I was recruited as an assistant teacher, my first time there was during an event they had hosted for the FIRST Lego League, an organization that lets kids problem solve using Lego. I, along with other interns, began by setting up tables for each team of elementary schoolers who were competing. Well, “competing” doesn’t actually apply to this event, since every team got a reward in the end, and they had to get creative with the names for all the rewards thanks to the amount of teams there were. All the activities I helped with involved kids from elementary school to middle school, with an emphasis on teamwork and participation.
I definitely wasn’t pleased with how crowded it was getting. While most of the interns had left by the halfway mark, I oversaw the chess club and Lego bins in the back corner. It was cool seeing what Lego robotics the elementary schoolers were making, as I never really played with Lego, but knew instead of making complicated robots I just made messes. TEKI hasn’t hosted an event like this one since, but the main task stayed the same throughout my experience, assisting kids with the tasks they are given while the paid employees do the teaching. I got to know a bit about my co-workers who were pleasant to be around, and have a similar interest in technology like me. The two I interact with the most are Ethan and Cole, who teach the classes everyday.
The classes take place in a moderately sized room filled with gaming computers, consoles, and lots of RGB lights. A window at the end of the room allows anyone to peek into the Florham Park Sports Dome, which it shares building space with, and see all the kids playing sports. Alternatively, the window lets the sports kids peer into the room to attract more customers. For the after school classes, which is where I spend the bulk of my internship assisting, my daily routine goes like this. I arrive 30 minutes before classes start to help prepare everything. I turn on all the lights, boot up the computers, and prepare any outside activities if we need. It takes longer when setting up in person. Everyday is a different class, but most days we use a program called Minecraft Education Edition, which is the game Minecraft but integrated with coding. Each day is also centered around a theme like DC heroes, or battle royale, where I assist the kids in whatever activity is related to that. For the DC heroes themed day, the kids had to solve coding problems in Minecraft with Wonder Woman, and I too felt like a hero, coming to save the day for anyone stuck on the problems. It’s not real coding where you type out commands for the computer, but instead dragging blocks together that make characters in the game move or interact with the game. I spent time helping a few kids who have a harder time grasping how it worked than others. When there was a tough problem, I wouldn’t blatantly give the kid the correct answers, but instead slowly guide them through how it works and tips on what to do so they can piece it together themselves.
It’s not all superheroes and sunshine though, as sometimes it really did replicate the real life job experience of menial tasks made to make you question your purpose in life, or at least that's how it felt when sorting Legos for an hour. The after school classes started very recently, so some of the classes are off to a slow start. They may pick up the pace later with more interesting tasks, but that's part of the experience. In preparation for the coming classes, I was tasked with sorting Legos in the correct boxes so kids can build their fancy Lego contraptions later. It made me feel all the more important knowing that if I failed, these kids who rely on me will never find the right pieces to build their moving Lego giraffe.
In reality my perils in sorting Legos aren’t that serious, but this is the type of personality kids love. The first day the kids had to build Lego cars, and it was as fun for them as it was for me, and I knew I could make it more exciting than it first seemed. I sat down and talked to them, asking how their Lego cars are so cool and that I have 15 at home. I could only dream of having that many Lego cars at home, but now they believed I was the real deal, and so they valued the Lego pieces I gave them since it was coming from a self-proclaimed expert. I encouraged them to build their cars, gave them really cool pieces to use, and they were all over me by the end of it. TEKI is more about encouraging kids to interact with each other and have fun doing so. The task given to younger kids really serves as a front to get them to talk. I understood the assignment, made my snarky comments, and was on my way, only to return the next day. TEKI does tons of events, even hosting some birthday parties soon, which I’m excited to help out in. Being at TEKI has helped me get better at interacting with kids, and I hope to get better in the coming months.