Talking to cool kids on career day

Published August 13, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Editor’s note: While Tammy is taking the week off to spend it with her 3-month-old granddaughter, she offers this column from 2009 in recognition of the first day of school on Monday.

I broke my moratorium on speaking to school classes about my job. I must admit, it was fun. These were third-graders — a really smart, well-behaved group of third-graders at Woodrow

Cummins Elementary School in Conway. Their teacher, Mrs. Smith, had control of the class. She was nice, yet firm with them. “Do you have a question or a story? No stories,” she’d say as they held up their hands to ask — or tell — me something. “Who’s talking?” she said, when she was trying to ask a question and was interrupted.

The last time I had talked to a group of students — at least 10 years ago — it was a bored-looking group of college kids.

Maybe they were just being cool. Maybe I bored them. Only a few of them allegedly wanted to be newspaper writers, but even those didn’t seem to care.

So, I decided that was it. I get nervous in front of groups anyway, which is hard for people to believe, knowing how I like to talk.

I said “no” at first to speaking to this class, which was studying the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and learning about news and writing.

I got a little nervous, but my friend who has a daughter in the class and had put me up for this said, “They’re third-graders! How hard can it be?” Hey, kids can be a tough audience.

I jotted down a couple of thoughts on note cards, grabbed a newspaper and our magazine, and took off.

After I was introduced, I told them I’d been writing for newspapers for a long time. I asked them to guess how long.

“Ten years!” a wide-eyed boy guessed.

When I told them 25, you could tell they couldn’t believe I was still alive.

When I told them I’d written a story about Katy Allen, the American Idol’s wife, I got a lot of gasps, so I was off to a good start. One little boy showed me the Kris Allen T-shirt he was wearing.

That got a much better response than my can’t-miss stories about interviewing the man who had a baby pig in his house that licked my leg the whole time during the interview, or the

stories I did on Bigfoot sightings.

I asked if anyone in the class collected anything — and I got lots of responses. Video games were No. 1. One sweet little boy showed me the pencil-lead collection he had stashed in his desk, much to the teacher’s surprise.

A couple of boys said they collect coins, so I did an impromptu interview with Brandon to give the kids an idea of how it works.

He told me his grandfather helped start his collection, which includes foreign coins and silver dollars.

The class seemed pretty interested in Brandon’s story. He asked if it was going to be published, but I think this will have to do.

The kids had good questions: “Have you ever been to a crime scene?” “What inspired you to be a writer?”

There were lots of, “Did you write that story about … the kid in the balloon?

Michael Jackson?”

The teacher and I reminded them about national news versus local news.

They were great — and if they maintain this enthusiasm, I’ll talk to them again — when they get to college.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

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