[[from the desk of Jennifer Marlow]]
(The Marketplace Cafeteria on Duke’s East Campus. Duke Engage Academy. Cue “Skills Inventory” exercise)
Our site coordinator gives us slips of paper and asks us to fill out two columns: Hard skills and Soft skills. What are things that we bring with us professionally as we prepare to leave for Dandelion Middle School? What interpersonal skills do we bring?
I have strengths. I have skills. I know that I can work hard and contribute to our group.
Maybe I’m bad at introspection, or am self-conscious, but staring at the blank slip of paper in front of me with a dried out rust orange sharpie in my hand my mind suddenly is also blank.
In the end I write some generic abilities: grading, skit writing, listening, even “flexible” (NOTE: flexible does not mean physical flexibility. My legs have been sore every day from morning running.)
The other Duke Engage volunteers and I are at the front of classroom 7-3. It is the class I will be with for the remainder of their school year (the end of June in a month and a half). We have to introduce ourselves and make I’m nervous. I want to make a good impression and (maybe?) be a bit special.
I rub my palms on my skirt, the one I threw on ten minutes ago after arriving from a 24 hour trip from Greenville, South Carolina through Newark, NJ, and Toronto, Canada to Beijing, China. My hair is a crimped poufy mess after taking out the two matted French braids that kept my hair out of my face during my trip.
I introduce myself. It’s still the same old information. But this time I add a twist. As almost an afterthought I say, “Oh. And I can do this!” Then I clasp my hands in front of my face and blow a dove call.
Dove calls are special.
I remember first hearing my grandpa make them when I was little. I would beg my dad to teach me. I practiced and practiced. Then, magically, one time I tried and out came the soft coo a dove makes. Once, when in Nicaragua I used dove calls to play with kids and make connections despite the language barrier.
(Fast Forward. Current Time)
Today I smile as I peak inside my classroom during class change and see over half my kids practicing and trying to whistle a dove call. Some of them have already figured it out and are alternately showing off or helping the others learn. They don’t know it, but they’re learning something about me that’s beyond the surface data I told them on Monday when I introduced myself.
I started this post wanting to write about the many introductions that have been made in the past two weeks. To write about the problems with providing only surface level information and not sharing the defining elements of who we are or the reasons we are certain ways. To write about being known. To write about what skills I possess or what things that our group can achieve.
Honestly though, the focus of the summer shouldn’t be on these things. The focus is these kids and how special and phenomenal they are. They’re fun and sweet and talk A LOT (loudly!).
Sure, I have professional and interpersonal skills. The team that I’m with here in Beijing is great –we each bring unique skills and enthusiasm for the work that we will be doing. I am super excited to get to know each of them better.
These skills are important. Being known is important. But most important is why we are here and who we are here for. Seeing my students excited about practicing their brass instruments instead of napping, helping them with their English, chatting with them over meals, hearing about their struggles –all these things have reinforced the answer to those two questions.
And the dove calling? It is a steady reminder that being able to connect with and love my kids is one of the most important elements of my summer.