A model U.N. shows a world of possibilities

teacher talk

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2003

Sometimes as a teacher I feel as if I have no life of my own. I teach, I grade, I plan. I do make time for my Juneau friends and an occasional phone call to my family and friends outside of town, but it's usually not enough. So, in an attempt to "have a life," as my students would say, I vowed to adopt a new mantra this year: "I'm sorry, but no."

When I became a teacher six years ago, I think I was secretly tattooed with the phrase "sucker." In order to foster as many great connections with kids as I possibly could, I did as many school-related activities as I could fit into my schedule. I said "yes" to every request.

Then I began to want to be more involved in the community outside of school. This meant I had to start saying "no" to many of those school-related requests. It was painful at first, but over time became easier.

I'm the first to admit, however, that I've not employed my new mantra as much as necessary. But there's a good reason I don't say "no" to most of the activities I decide to take on: I still think they are great ways to make important connections with kids. In the classroom I get to help 120 kids learn how to write a cohesive analytical essay. As an advisor for an activity, I get to help students become better citizens of their community and of the world.

This year I have been a co-advisor (along with Karin Reyes) for Model United Nations at JDHS. In February, 18 high school students demonstrated their ability to be diplomatic as they successfully navigated the waters of the University of Alaska Anchorage Model U.N. conference on children and the family. Our delegates worked to end the practice of forcing children to participate in armed conflict, prevent the further spread of AIDS, create better technological infrastructure in developing countries, and promote sustainable development across the world.

Throughout the two days dedicated to the conference, I saw our students operate in coalition with students from across Alaska to come to consensus and draft resolutions. I saw them assert themselves. I saw them work together.

A day after our return from Anchorage, we did a quick turnaround and 10 students, two advisors, and two chaperones headed out for another simulation of world diplomacy. This time our destination was the real United Nations headquarters in New York City.

This was the first week in March, and as real life delegates were attempting to prevent what has since happened in Iraq, there we were, taking a tour of the U.N. building, sitting in the gallery of the Security Council chambers. While there, our Peruvian tour guide pointed out places for the press corps and described how member nations were seated in the council room.

To be there at that particular moment, for those particular days, was awe-inspiring. I couldn't believe I was sitting in a room calmly listening to this NYU graduate student from Peru in the same place Hans Blix would be the next morning to deliver a report.

I can only hope our students felt some of the same awe I felt. I know they were excited to talk with and meet Sami Zeidan, a delegate to the U.N. from Lebanon, the country our students were representing at the conference. I know they were jazzed to sit at the Lebanon desk in the General Assembly and use the microphone and voting buttons someone has been using since 1945 to make real world decisions that impact our lives. I know they were thankful to the members of the Juneau World Affairs Council who helped financially to make the trip possible and helped prepare them for presentations they had the opportunity to make.

Maybe one of our students will be inspired to work in international relations and commit herself or himself to working for the betterment of the global community as a result of this experience.

How can you say, "I'm sorry, but no," to that?

• Kristin Garot teaches English and social studies at JDHS.

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