On Tuesday I was walking to the middle school where I lead a weekly afterschool club for a group of girls on the broad topic of "ocean science". I was feeling a bit torn and overextended because this takes away an afternoon per week from lab work, which has been piling up lately. Additionally, the first few weeks of this club were a bit chaotic, and I wasn't sure how engaged some of the girls were. I was wrestling with whether or not I was actually doing something important, or whether I was just wasting time that should be spent trying to get DNA out of rocks that don't feel particularly like giving it up.
I arrived at the school to learn that my co-mentor had to quit the program, and that I was flying solo. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I actually like it better this way... not because I didn't like working with her (I actually did), but because I am a bit of a control freak, and not having to cooperate and compromise with someone else is often easier for me. I was given a second high school student helper, and set off to do an exciting dissection activity with the girls. I started club by talking with them about how I had been frustrated not feeling like I was being listened to, and asked them for a bit more respect since the only reason I am there is for them to have fun learning about what I think are some of the coolest topics in the world.
I was pleasantly surprised at how club went. By no means were they all behaved perfectly, but when I asked for attention I got it, and more importantly, they were totally engaged in the activity. Mostly I think this is because it was a particularly exciting activity (dissecting sea stars - we don't call them star fish in our club), but it might have had a bit to do with the fact that I laid out for them ahead of time how I wanted things to progress. I told them we were going to walk through a few questions slowly together, and then they would be free to investigate on their own. My high school helpers were awesome, and everyone had a good time. I walked back to lab confident that the past 3 hours had been a worthwhile investment in these young women, and reminded that this aspect of science (call it outreach, teaching, or hanging out with kids) is not something I am willing to give up just because I don't have time for everything.