Karen Gerardi started her day Nov. 15 at the weekly breakfast meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Brandon, at Ben's Family Restaurant, across the street from Nativity Catholic School and church. She had to run, she said, as the meeting drew to a close, to teach the kids at Sandra and Ron Frost Elementary School in the Greater Brandon community of Riverview.
Gerardi for a second year was set to fufill her promise to participate in the annual Great American Teach-In; to stand before first- and fourth-graders and talk about her service supervisor job at the Bank of Tampa on North Armenia Avenue.
"My son is a student at the school and they asked me last year to do it," she said. "I really enjoyed it and volunteered to go back. It's really amazing what their little minds think of."
For example, she said, one third-grader posed a question that completely floored her. He wanted to know: "My mom and dad filed for bankruptcy, what does that mean?"
"I was just floored by that," Gerardi said. "How much do you really want to tell a child going through that? It's a very sad sign of our times."
Gerardi said she learned as a Great American Teach-In invitee — asked to talk about real-life experiences on the job and off — that in return for her efforts, the kids, "they taught me things."
"It was surprising how much they knew that you wouldn't think they would know, just about the world in general," Gerardi said. "I asked them, 'How do your parents pay for things?' And the majority of them said, 'By debit card.' I didn't think they would know the difference between a debit card and a credit card."
Overall, Gerardi said, as she was about to enjoy her second year at the Great American Teach-In, after recounting her debut participation the year before, the experience "was more rewarding for me than it was for them."
"Just watching them learn," Gerardi said. "They teach me, they teach each other, about what is going on. I don't think we give our kids enough credit for how much they know versus what we think they know. They're much smarter than we know."
Gerardi said when she went to college she anticipated becoming a teacher, "and then I realized that I didn't have the patience for that."
But, "being there in the classroom for one day," she added, "that was a lot of fun."
As for the teacher who does the job day in and day out? Gerardi had nothing but praise.
"I think teachers are amazing," she said. "It takes a special person to be a special teacher."