March 27, 2013 by kmwelden
Despite my affinity for sleeping late, this year I’ve been waking up early one morning a week (Does 8 still count as early? Please say yes.) and volunteering at a downtown elementary school. To be honest with you, though, I did initially sign up for the 12:15-1:00 time slot, but that got cancelled, so now here I am on the 8:45-9:30 block. Anyway.
Meet Nathaniel, the ten-year-old fourth grader that I tutor:
Every Wednesday, we meet and work on reading. At first, I had visions of charging in there and being the coolest, hippest, most well-dressed tutor in a room filled with the bunch of older women I work with. However, that’s not how it happened, because during my time slot a legion of firemen also come in to tutor and really how am I supposed to compete with that? Ten-year-old boys do not think nerdy, bespectacled, slightly-neurotic college girls are cool. Firemen are cool. Firemen who drive their damn truck to the school building are cool. They are like elementary school celebrities. Showoffs, if you ask me. But today, all of the firemen had to leave to go on a call, completely abandoning their tutees, and I was as self-satisfied as I could have possibly been when I turned to Nathaniel and said, “See, Nathaniel? It’s a good thing you have me instead of a fireman. I’ll never leave you!” Usually, though, Nathaniel is probably wishing that I would leave him in the middle of a session and quit pestering him to write more sentences about Ruby Bridges.
Wednesday mornings, I dread getting out of bed. My first class isn’t until 2 PM, and my body is always just begging me to go back to sleep. I wait until the very last second to get up, never have any time, and spend the first two minutes of my drive trying to hold my eyeballs open and chug water to wake up so I don’t look stoned at the elementary school. Every time I get there, though, I’m so glad I made the effort: I tell Nathaniel stupid jokes. He looks at me like I’m crazy. I read him parts of The BFG. He reads me his book. We complete worksheets together. I pester him with questions about his weekend. He pretends to fall asleep and asks if it’s my turn to fill out a worksheet yet (it never is). Clearly, we’ve got a regular Abbott and Costello-esque banter going on.
The point is, my tutoring experience isn’t exactly like Hilary Swank in Freedom Writers. That’s cool because I’m not really into the White Man’s Burden line of thinking, but I swear, there’s something about watching a child learn that I don’t think could ever get old. For example, we keep a vocabulary journal (excuse me, a Wondrous Words Journal), and this is so lame, but every time I quiz him on a word and he can tell me what it means, I can’t help thinking, oh my God, I taught him that. He knows that word because of me!!
I only have a couple more sessions with Nathaniel before I move to Denver, and he moves to fifth grade. I’m not sure if he’ll miss me (I’ll probably be replaced by some commonplace fireman), but oh, I’m already missing him!
PS: It now occurs to me that I didn’t even mention why I’m volunteering, but it’s through a program called Reading Partners. The school I’m at is a member of the Charleston Promise Neighborhood, which works to end the cycle of poverty in Charleston County. They’re doing really great work and it’s a cause I really believe in. I actually have a million more things to say about education and educational inequality (that’s the whole reason I’m doing City Year), but that’s a post for another day. I can sometimes get a little long-winded (I’ll pause for the collective gasp of the readership on that surprising revelation). Enjoy the rest of your Wednesday!