Tonite I “graduated” one of my students. This was my 11th grade boy. I cant say that working with him was a breeze, but it was a far cry from where I was before.
Around this time last year, I was working with “Tommy” at a volunteer center up in the Heights. Tommy would yell at me, and throw things at me and say things like “You are so black, (and he’s black, so wtf?) you are so fake, I dont care about this!!” I can in all honesty say that I left that place on more than one occasion in tears and ready to strangle him. Its so frustrating when you want to help someone and they are not receptive to your help. In addition to troubled homes and poor backgrounds, you’ve also got to deal with hormones and teenage angst.. “Tommy” was sort of known as the “problem kid” at the center and everyone else seemed to have an attitude of “yep, well, thats Tommy”….I tried my best with Tommy and in the end, while his grades were not exactly stellar, he did make it to the next grade level and is beginning to show an interest in college.
This year Im working at a different place, with kids of all different ages… “Ted”, the one I graduated tonite,was softspoken and almost shy. I would have him read out loud at every session, and he would do so very slowly… I can tell that it embarrassed him, but I also knew that practice was the only way he was going to improve. So we kept at it. We also worked a lot on his writing. I kept trying to get him to use more details, imagery, and o yeah, proper grammar, in his writing. We only get to work with each student for about two months, so I am not sure that he will remember what a metaphor or simile is, or be able to tell me if the story is written from a First person or Third person perspective. But I am hoping that, at the very least,I can leave him with a love of reading and writing, and that it will open his mind and stir his imagination and creativity, just as it did for me.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our education system, especially in light of all of the recent controversy. Controversy about charter schools vs public schools, about new teachers versus older, more seasoned teachers, about standardized testing systems and whether or not they are effective….I thought the President did a great job in his speech a few weeks ago when he addressed education…really encouraging young people to go into teaching, saying what a noble profession it was…
Thruout all of my experience working with kids, though, be it in a class setting, babysitting, or thru tutoring, what strikes me as the most effective approach is individualized attention. Im finding that in many cases, thats all it takes. For them to know that someone is actually paying attention to them and cares about what they do. To instill some sort of accountability for them, some motivation (other than passing the test) to do well. Now, that doesnt necessaily mean that they will welcome you with open arms, or overwhelm you with hugs and kisses in gratitude for your help. (I think ‘Tommy” was yelling at me up until our last day). But I do think that, deep inside, whether they show it or not, they are glad that you are with them, spending time with them….
Now, I know I’m an actor and I can tend to overdramatize.. and maybe as a woman I can get too sentimental..so theres a small chance that I could be reading too much into it..but I could swear, absolutely swear, that as I was saying my good byes to “Ted” tonite, that he was fighting the urge to hug me. And I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he would miss me and our sessions together…
Its Saturday nite in NYC..I made it thru another week….where da party at??!!