I have to be very flexible when I’m tutoring. Each child is different. Each child learns at a different pace. Each one finds different things interesting. I have to adapt myself to them.
The way I want to teach isn’t always the way they want to learn. So instead of expecting them to conform to where I’m coming from, I get down to where they are. I’m here for them, not myself. I already know my letters. They are the ones who have to do the work. I’m there to cheer them on when they get it right.
Of course, sometimes they aren’t really interested in learning at all and they really want to play. Sometimes it is hard to tell. Learning looks a lot like playing sometimes. But when it looks a lot more like playing than learning it is time to redirect. Sometimes I’ll say, “Do you want to work on this, or do you want to go back to class?” I’m happy either way. If they aren’t ready to work, there are three more after them who are.
It is interesting the number of kids who say “pick me!” They want to work. Getting to work with a tutor isn’t seen as a negative thing. This is excellent. There is no stigma. The kids who I work with aren’t seen as being a little slower, or having a harder time getting concepts. It is a treat, a favor, to work with me. This makes my job easier, but also harder. I’d love to work with them all but I only have an hour a week. There isn’t much quality time available so I have to have a list of who needs me.
I don’t pick the children I tutor. I get a list from the teacher, in order of need. I start at the top and go as far as I can. Sometimes the list has five children on it, and I only get to the first two. That is OK. Those two needed more attention that day and were willing to work. If I can get them in that frame of mind, I’m running with it.
One day I worked with the same child for three quarters of the hour. That was a big deal. Oscar was from Mexico, and it took half the year for him to even answer me back in English. Actually, I don’t even think he was answering me in Spanish most of the time. I think Oscar was speaking Oscar. He was very enthusiastic about it, but he didn’t make any sense. I have a feeling that his parents thought that he was speaking English but they didn’t know English so they didn’t know any better.
That day I was reading a book to him, and I was using every trick I had. How many ornaments are there on the tree? Where is the yellow box? It may sound silly, but there is a lot more to reading a book than just the words. I wanted to fully engage him.
Mostly, I wanted him to hear English. If you are going to live here, you have to know English to get by. Being able to read and write is certainly nice, but if you can’t understand and speak it, you are in a world of hurt.
By the end of the year, Oscar still wasn’t doing very well with writing and reading. He would cover up the words on the page and look at the pictures. I’m not sure that he understood that I wasn’t just making up the story. I’m not sure that he didn’t get that those words weren’t just squiggles. He at least was responding to my questions in English. Mission accomplished. It wasn’t much, but it is a start.
Sometimes the teacher will assign a child to me who is doing very well. We’ll go through the lesson that we’ve been assigned, and she will do fabulously. I’ll ask the teacher why I was assigned this student. Often it is simply that the child needed a little attention and time. Sometimes it is because Mom is not at home – she is still back in their home country. Or Dad has been deported. Sometimes it has nothing to do with learning letters and numbers, but everything to do with personal attention.
It is amazing how simple it is to offer a little bit of time, and how much good it does.