Sometimes I feel like I’m Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller when I tutor. This is especially true these days when I work with V. Sometimes it isn’t about the assignment. It is about just getting through it.
I remember the story of how Annie Sullivan, on her first day as Helen Keller’s tutor didn’t manage to get anything done except make her sit still long enough to eat her meal at the table. It took hours, but it got done. Somehow she had taught her how to be human, just a little bit, and not a wild animal.
All V wants to do is play, and paint, and draw. For that matter, that is all I want to do too, but that isn’t the purpose of school. I’d love to spend all day making jewelry and writing, but that doesn’t get the bills paid. I have to go to work. “Work” for a five year old is kindergarten, and she’s not doing very well.
She is cheery, at least. Seeing her still in school is a plus too. But darn if she will focus.
I was disheartened when I saw my assignment and the supplies today. Not only was there nothing new, but something we should have been long past was there. It isn’t that I don’t want to work with the “Insta-learn” board. It is a perfectly fine way of learning letters and sounds and words. But the words are just three letters, and they are getting used to it. They pick out the words they want to do. It shouldn’t be hard for them by this point. We shouldn’t need it.
But then I realize I’m putting “should” in there. It is what it is. We aren’t in a race, right?
Well, in a way, we are. How long until first grade? If they don’t have their letters and sounds down by then it is going to be really hard for them. First grade isn’t about playtime and painting at all.
I used to really worry about the students when they were slow to get it. I worry a little now, but I also realize that it isn’t me. It’s them. They have to do the work.
Work is the last thing V wants to do right now. She wants nothing to do with the letters. Today the only thing that we accomplished was getting her to complete an assignment The class had been working on short i and long i today. They had a sheet with pictures on it, and they had to cut out the pictures and glue them to a sheet of paper. One side was for words like pie and kite, and the other was for words like mitt and pig.
V’s sheet was very colorful and very messy and very wrong. And not finished. We had to finish that before we could do anything else. I soon realized that there was no way we could fix what she had already done because of how well she had glued down the pieces. We had to start over from scratch.
She wanted to color the pieces again. I said no, because I knew that for the dead end that it is.
It was painful, and it was an uphill struggle. She didn’t get the point of the assignment. She also kept trying to distract me, and thus delay doing the work. She would point out other things in the hallway. She pointed out her teeth (the front two are missing now). She noticed my new glasses. She noticed everything except what the assignment was. I’ve started to recognize the look she has when she knows that she is trying to divert attention. It is intentional. She isn’t ADD. She’s clever. But, she’s five, and I’m 45, and half of my job is trying to get her to understand that she has to learn how to read, and that reading is amazing and fun.
It is really hard sometimes. I don’t remember being five. I’ve never had children. I don’t know all their tricks, or remember how they think. I tutor, in part, to learn this. I like that I get to borrow them for a few hours a month.
After we finished the assignment she took it to the teacher and she exclaimed how wonderful it was that it was finished. I tried to use that as a springboard to encourage her to finish other assignments. We’ll see if this seed produces anything useful.
In the meantime, she waded through the rest, and tried to distract me more, and didn’t want to focus. I have two other students to work with, so I decided to cut it short. I don’t have time to play around, and it isn’t fair to the others to skip them. She wasn’t interested in going back to class either, and tried to “stick” to her chair. I’ve had three years now of similar encounters, so I know the answer is just to keep repeating my request until the student knows that I’m not kidding.
The other two were equally iffy about working. Maybe it was because of the long break. They’d had Christmas and New Year’s off, and then a little extra because the really cold weather we had meant a water pipe burst in the school the week earlier.
We’ll try again next week.