My first real teaching experience came this past year when I was hired as a subcontracted tutor for TUSD. The company I worked for advocated small group tutoring sessions right after school for all students who weren’t performing well on standardized testing. Studies have shown that just a few hours of one on one time with a student, something like five hours a year, can improve the student’s grade by one letter. And better grades lead to more confident youth. And confident youth lead to a brighter future. Plus, it was the highest paying job I’d ever had; all around it was a pretty good gig.
Until I met my kid. His name was Jordan. He was five, full of energy even at the end of the day, in a bad family situation, and far more interested in pulverizing his snack than reading. But I had to teach him reading. Three times a week. And one of those days was Friday, when his grandma, who picked him up, brought the puppy. What is that saying about a rock and a hard place? That was me.
Besides a brief summer after fifth grade when I wanted to be a zoo keeper, I have always wanted to be a teacher. But now that I was actually teaching, I wasn’t so sure. It was hard. And what’s more, I didn’t seem to be very good at it. More often than not, I cried on the drive home, having succeeded only in keeping Jordan in his seat the whole session. Sometimes I only managed to get him into the hall and away from the other kids before he exploded into a floor-rolling tantrum.
Working with him was never easy. Even when he was interested in the story, he’d psyche himself out, convince himself
that he couldn’t do it and that, actually, he didn’t want to do it and that I couldn’t make him. Even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, easily his favorite subject, the names of which he spoke with a familiarity of life-long friends, didn’t always convince him to pick up a book. Very slowly I began to, word by word through trades, deals, and a fair amount of candy, win Jordan over. And eventually he was reading more words than throwing tantrums. He’d demand all the books on his favorite subjects that I could find. And by the end of my time with him had read several books cover to cover, was writing most of his letters the right direction, and even used proper punctuation without having to be reminded.
Without question, tutoring Jordan was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
On the very last day I was with Jordan, his grandmother came over to me and explained that earlier in the week Jordan’s class had done an assignment about what they liked best about school. Jordan said his favorite thing about school was his tutor.
I was hooked. I will be a teacher when I grow up. There is absolutely nothing I can think of that, while being extremely challenging, is as extremely rewarding. Since working with Jordan, I have upped the number of students, positioning myself in front of real live classrooms on a weekly basis. Teaching is what puts food on my table right now. It isn’t all tales of adversity and triumph. Even while I am passing on new information and getting my kids to think in whole new ways, I still have to separate those girls that won’t stop giggling. I have to start all over and remind them what respect means. Hear, purposefully whispered too loud, someone calling me bitch.
But I also get to see court ordered youth fight me every step of the way and then totally connect when the roles switch and he is the teacher. I get to hear the whispered wows and ohs as little known facts reveal themselves. I get to watch faces light up as suddenly a concept is grasped.
I didn’t set out to write this article to reiterate that just because something is hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. I’m not going to remind you that all worthwhile things in life are difficult. (I think EasyMac illustrates that point quite completely.) I won’t even mention how much we learn from the things that scare us.
Did I just sneak a lesson in there? Apples now being accepted.