I have tutored ESL kindergartners for two years now. I participate in a program that is sponsored by the Mayor of my city. He allows Metro employees to tutor in Metro schools on work time for an hour a week. Since I have a degree in English and I’ve tutored students with learning disabilities before, I thought this would be a great thing to do. I paired up with a ESL kindergarten teacher that I knew from my work who is fun and enthusiastic. I wanted to support her in her mission.
The first year I was tutoring ESL students from as close as Mexico and as far away as Uzbekistan. There were some students who were from America that needed a little extra help as well, as the class has a mixed skill level. Many of these children had never been to school or been away from their parents before. There was a lot for them to learn, and it wasn’t all letters and numbers.
But there was also a lot that they taught me.
I remember one time it was raining very hard. I had two girls, one after the other, who wanted easy work. There was something about the rain that made them want to retreat, to not push. It is like comfort food, the easy work.
I had a range of tools to work with. The easy stuff was a board with magnetic letters. We could make words with it or just write out the alphabet and sing the song. I needed it for some of the other students on my list that day, but I was surprised that Mariela and Maftuna both wanted this easy work. They had gotten past that level a month earlier. But today they both insisted on working on the ABCs and singing the song.
I was amazed, and a little frustrated. I wanted them to work, to push, to grow – not to take it easy and go backwards.
I expressed my frustration with Maftuna, the second girl. Why do you want this? This is easy. You can do more than this.
And this tiny girl, this 5 year old who had just learned English this year, looked at me and thought about it. She figured out how to say her mind with the few words she had so far.
She said “It’s easy for you” with the emphasis on the last word.
True. You got me. It is easy for me. But it is hard for her. I’d forgotten. I wasn’t seeing it from her perspective.
This tiny girl with the dark eyes and serious face schooled me.
Maftuna reminded me that not everything is always easy for everyone. Sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we need to retreat to old standbys. Sometimes we need the simple stuff. And sometimes we forget that just because it is easy for us doesn’t mean it is easy for someone else.
We forget how much work we had to put in to get where we are. The marathoner may not know how to encourage the starting runner. The master gardener may not remember how hard it is to get the mix of fertilizer right to keep the plants alive. Sometimes you have done something so often and for so long you don’t even remember how you got to where you are.
Part of compassion is seeing things from other people’s viewpoints. Sometimes that means literally getting down to their level. That day I was put in my place by a 5 year old from Uzbekistan. And I’m glad. She gave me a gift that day.