I pray before I tutor. I pray because I think it is a holy obligation to teach children. It is important to raise them well and be a good influence on them. It is important to model good behavior. They need to be shaped. Everything I say and everything I do is being watched by them and it is important to set a good example. I pray that God is able to work through me to help them.
I pray that I’m able to reach them. I pray that somehow I’m able to get in their heads and find the key that unlocks the door. I’ll try anything. It doesn’t matter how they learn, just that they learn.
Today I worked exclusively with V. S and J were on my list but I didn’t get to them. S really doesn’t need me and J took most of the hour last week, so I decided to take him last. It isn’t fair to V if I can’t work with her as well. I’d also heard from the teacher that she was failing her performance tests so it was really important to focus on her.
When I came back to the class with V and they were lining up to go outside, J saw me and had a very sour expression. He really wanted to work with me and it just didn’t happen. There’s only so much I can do in an hour, and since she was doing well, I decided to stay with her. After my time there, he ended up getting to work with Liz, who is another tutor and a friend from yoga class. He was a little dismayed that he didn’t get me, but he still got a tutor. I think he really wants individual attention. What he really needs is for his parents to step up to the game and work with him at home. That may not happen.
V did very well with matching small letters with their capitals. She was also able to quickly tell me what the letters were for most of them. This is a huge improvement over last week. But then we hit a snag. We went to the “insta-learn” board, the one with the orange tiles and the interchangeable letters. I didn’t expect her to match the sound of the letters with the name of the letter, but I did expect her to find the letter after doing so well with the first game.
Roadblock. Full stop. She started trying to find the letter the way J does, by singing the alphabet song until she came to the letter. Except unlike J, she didn’t even start with her finger on the letter a. She would start with a random letter like k. Like J she still couldn’t find it with this method.
Then we switched to the foam board with the letters that push out. It was as if she was back doing the first game. She did it very well. I’ll never know why one version of the alphabet works one day and another doesn’t, but I’ll take it.
The note that the teacher gave me said that she needed to work on numbers. The teacher had a special bin just for her. There was a box of plastic penguins, frogs, and fish inside. They were small and in different colors. Just because we are learning doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it. Learning is easier if it looks like a game. She did OK with this but she got distracted a lot. She was telling me a lot of stories about her home that I don’t think were true. They sounded a lot grander than the stories the teacher is telling me. I think it is important to listen to her, but also important to get her to stay focused on the task at hand.
Since she was getting distracted, I asked her several times if she wanted to work on something else or go back to class. The kids will sometimes wear out before I think they have, and it is good to ask. When I first started tutoring I didn’t know this. After about 20 minutes of really intense one on one work their eyes start to glaze over and they get fidgety. They are ready to go back to class but they don’t know it yet. Or they don’t know they can ask. There are certainly rules that they have learned about how to interact with adults and other authority figures. Asking for what you need isn’t usually on that list.
I don’t want to be seen as an authority figure. I put the higher chair in front of the table for them and the lower one to the side for me. This way I’m at the same height. I don’t want to be above them because I think that gives a wrong signal. It sets up a hierarchy, and that is certainly something I don’t want to do.
Something that is very important to me is that the children I work with have a sense of control. I’ll ask them what they want to work with first. I’ll ask them if they want to continue or go back to class. I’ll ask them if they want a book at the end of the session. Then if they do want a book, I’ll ask them to pick the one for us to read. Now, sure, I’m in charge. If they start not paying attention I’ll try to get them back. If they want to work on something that is really for another student (as in it is beneath their ability) I’ll dissuade them.
The most important thing for me to remember is that I’m there for them. They aren’t there for me. Sure, I get a lot out of it. Sure, I enjoy teaching them and watching them learn. I feel really blessed that I was there when a girl “got” how to read last year. But they are the ones who need me. I’m there to help them, and helping them isn’t just about learning letters and numbers. It is also about helping them be happy human beings.
I’ll go back in two weeks. Next week school is out because of Thanksgiving. I look forward to how much they have changed. Tutoring is like watching plants grow. Every week there are new signs of growth to appreciate and celebrate.