Today I only had time for two of the children on my list. I’ve had them every Wednesday since the beginning of school, and I have a feeling I’ll have them until the end of school. Every year there is at least one that needs a little help getting over that wall.
Both kids are sweet, but they just don’t yet get the work that is required yet. Kindergarten is a lot of fun. There are a lot of kids to play with. There are a lot of bright colors. Everything looks like a game. But it is deadly serious work. If you can’t understand your letters, then you can’t read. Then you are stuck in low paying jobs. It is a terrible hole to be in. A lot of your life depends on kindergarten. But, it is still the first month. There is time.
The girl, V, is a native English speaker. Her sister was in this same classroom last year but I rarely worked with her. She could have taught me some things. Right now I’m tempted to tell V she needs to ask her sister for help. She is glad to be in school, and that alone is a good thing. Just learning how to be in school is an important lesson.
Today she seemed obsessed with the letter H and why the human body does what it does. We were working with a board of wooden letters, cut out and colorful. Under each letter was a picture of a word that had that letter as the first letter. Under the letter H was a picture of a heart. She looked at me with her big brown eyes and asked me “why do our hearts beat?” Sometimes the sheer randomness of kindergartners knocks me off guard. When we came across the letter P she screwed up her face and said “Pee? Why do we have to pee? My Mommy pees.”
I swear, I can’t make this stuff up.
The boy, S, is from Mexico. He too is sweet but very distracted. Today his favorite letter was S. Everything was S. H was S. W was S. I think he likes S so much because it is the first letter of his name. He can write his name, sort of, with a lot of prompting, but the other letters are beyond him. Perhaps he doesn’t see the relevance of them. They don’t apply to him, so why learn them?
This is a hurdle all teachers have to face – making the lesson meaningful. The students often think, “Why learn anything just for the sake of learning?” This is a fast-paced world. If it doesn’t have any application to my life, what is the point? The sad part it all is applicable, but it is impossible to explain that in a way that they will believe. You have to live it to understand it.
Today it was reinforced that if someone wants to learn, they will. If they don’t, they won’t. When I first started showing up to tutor, I felt that it was really important that the kids really work hard and get this material. I was really eager for them to learn how to read. But over the years I’ve realized that it is up to them to do the work. I have to be there. They have to meet me in the middle. I present the material in an engaging way and cheer them on when they get it right. But it is up to them to pay attention and do their homework so there is improvement from week to week. I can’t do it for them. If they can’t read by the end of kindergarten, it isn’t my fault.
This is applicable all over life. People have choices. They can choose to learn or not. They can choose to be ready and awake and alert, or they can choose to be asleep. Perhaps it isn’t a choice. Perhaps it is part of their character or their upbringing. Perhaps their parents don’t value education, so they don’t work with them. Perhaps their parents have no education, so they can’t work with them.
Not all baby birds fly. This is a hard lesson. I want them all to do well, but I can’t do the work for them. Again, this is still just the first month. I’ll keep going every Wednesday, and keep trying. I’ll try every trick I have to get them to engage with the material. There is still time, but the longer it takes for them to understand the alphabet, the further behind they are.