6 Things I Learned from Tutoring Reading

by - Thursday, February 13, 2014

Today was the first of my last days, many of which are coming in the next two weeks. I started tutoring at Just Read soon after everything fell apart at grad school, and this and my other big volunteering position probably did more to pull me out of  the despair of a year of struggle more than anything else. Who knew hanging out with middle schoolers could actually

1. The vast array of literature available for kids- How did I miss Alvin Ho and Claudia Explainy books? It's alright, because I have heard it all now. I have learned every scary stoy and everything about middle school. Also, the full biography of Eleanor Roosevelt multiple times. 
2. The ways ESL students relate to knowledge and their world- One of my students came from a small area in Eastern India because his parents believe with all their heart that their son is a future rocket scientist. They came to America for his future when he was 11, Because he carries that incredible pressure, and because there are so few people who can relate to his background, he is immediately defensive about what he knows. Seeing our language through his eyes has been a huge and wonderful challenge, because he has already improved so so much. I kid you not, we had our best day ever today talking about whale hunting (grossest thing in the world).
3.If a student is sweet and smart enough, it isn't so hard for their learning disability to slip through the cracks- She couldn't cover up enough that they couldn't she was struggling, but one of my students made it to her 6th grade trips to Just Read before we saw that she had dyslexia.She just memorized words. Also, she is one of my favorite people ever, so it crushes my heart to think I won't get to see her continue to overcome this, which I know she will. Also, I won't get to hear if the boy she likes really did get her a teddy bear tomorrow!
4. Hangman is a tricky game when your opponent can't spell- You die a lot of deaths trying to figure out what inv_s_ble is. Or chatos_rophi_. So cute!
5. Having a 15+ age difference from everyone in the room in either direction- I was born to be an old lady, so why not start now? Do you think the investment in volunteering is more generational or just about the leisure time that opens up when you retire? Are we just the worst or were they just as bad as us when they were in their 20's? It was cute that they were all so supportive today, and they had lots of good Seattle advice for me.
6. The epically important difference between praising ability and praising effort (and how this could heal what I thought about myself)- I always thought of praising effort, especially when it is articulated in this way, as pandering or being condescending. When I began researching and reading for this job, I realized that praising effort is EVEN more important if you think the student in front of you is talented. When people hear praise for their born-with qualities, they begin to think their best things are born with. They actually grow more and more afraid of failing, because their identities are at stake. They think being good at something (in this cae reading) is just part of who they are, so when they face challenges it must mean they aren't who they think they are. Conversely it empowers people to just wait around, rather than realizing work can get you a lot further than others, no matter what they were born with.  It's the difference between working for a paycheck or waiting to win the lottery (thank Conor). We all have aptitudes, but the things we put work into will become real well-rounded skills.

Everyone go volunteer. Do something, you will be glad you did (and heartbroken when you have to go).

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